ABFM Simplifies, Streamlines Family Medicine Certification

Clinical Simulations No Longer Required, Plus Other Changes

July 26, 2016 01:30 pm Cindy Borgmeyer

The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) launched its Maintenance of Certification for Family Physicians (MC-FP) Program nearly 15 years ago, but the work of fine-tuning the continuing certification process to best meet family physicians' professional development and lifelong learning needs continues.


As ABFM President and CEO James Puffer, M.D., said during a recent AAFP visit to the board's headquarters in Lexington, Ky.: "We have a lot of exciting things going on that we think will benefit your members."

For starters, the term "MC-FP" is going by the wayside; it's the Family Medicine Certification process now. And although the four core elements that make up the certification process -- Professionalism, Self-Assessment & Lifelong Learning, Cognitive Expertise, and Performance Improvement -- remain with some modifications, other terms have changed, as well, to more accurately describe what they are. It's all nicely laid out in the ABFM's Summer 2016 Phoenix newsletter(www.theabfm.org), but here's a quick cross-walk from the old to the new:

Story Highlights
  • Although the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) Maintenance of Certification for Family Physicians Program is nearly 15 years old, the ABFM continues to improve its processes.
  • Much of the language associated with the program is changing to more accurately describe the individual components.
  • In addition, the clinical simulation portion of the program's previously structured self-assessment activities is being decoupled from the knowledge assessment portion and will no longer be a required component.
  • Part II modules -- also called Self-Assessment Modules (SAMs) -- are now known simply as Self-Assessment activities,
  • Part IV modules -- also known as Performance in Practice Modules (or Methods in Medicine Modules for FPs who do not provide continuing care for patients) -- are now called Performance Improvement activities,
  • The MC-FP Examination is now referred to as the Family Medicine Certification Examination,
  • MC-FP Stages are now Certification Stages, and
  • MC-FP Points are now Certification Points.

And it's not just the terminology that's changing. Perhaps the most substantive change to Family Medicine Certification was based on ABFM diplomates' feedback regarding the SAMs. Namely, that the clinical simulation portion of these activities was not as useful as the knowledge assessment portion in helping to enhance clinical practice.

Accordingly, the ABFM has now uncoupled the two elements. Whereas family physicians previously were required to complete a SAM that included both a 60-question knowledge assessment plus a clinical simulation, the Knowledge Self-Assessment (KSA) will now be the minimum required self-assessment activity. A completed KSA will provide 10 certification points and eight CME credits toward diplomates' certification requirements.

The Clinical Self-Assessment (CSA) is being evaluated and redesigned based on physician feedback, but will be available as an optional self-assessment activity that can be completed for five certification points and four CME credits toward certification requirements.

ABFM Changes Echoed in AAFP Working Groups

Recently announced changes to the American Board of Family Medicine's (ABFM's) continuing certification process have important implications for the AAFP-sponsored live activities formerly known as Self-Assessment Module (SAM) Working Groups.

In keeping with the ABFM's decision to uncouple the clinical simulation requirement from the knowledge assessment portion of the former SAMs -- leaving the Knowledge Self-Assessment (KSA) as the minimum required self-assessment activity -- these groups will now be known as KSA Working Groups. Note that although the name has changed, the content of the knowledge assessment has not.

And whereas before, SAM Working Groups carried no CME credit (credit was earned only after the physician completed the clinical simulation portion of the SAM and paid an ABFM fee), physicians who complete an AAFP-approved KSA Working Group activity will now be eligible for eight Live AAFP Prescribed credits.

Already completed a SAM during your current certification stage? Don't worry, it still counts. A completed SAM will meet the minimum KSA requirement and provide 15 certification points along with 12 CME credits toward certification requirements.

Those now in the process of completing a SAM have until July 31, 2017, to do so. Take note, however: To satisfy the minimum requirement and receive the 15 certification points, both the 60 questions and the clinical simulation must be completed.

Overall, the introduction of KSA and CSA activities that results from splitting the SAM allows diplomates to more closely tailor how they complete their certification requirements, and the ABFM is reinforcing that flexibility by applying a points system to all physicians' certification requirements regardless of when they last certified or which certification pathway they have chosen.

All the details are outlined in the Phoenix, but here's a key takeaway: The changeover to the point system does not require diplomates to complete any new activities.

Finally, the ABFM is simplifying how diplomates pay for certification, shifting from the current methodology -- which amortized the total cost of certification (including the cost of the next examination) based on whether the physician was following the seven- or 10 year certification cycle option -- to simply paying the same amount annually regardless of certification pathway. The annual payment will still include the cost of the next examination.

Related AAFP News Coverage
ABFM, AAFP Team Up to Help FPs Transform Their Practices
HHS Grant Will Support Work to Improve Quality, Achieve Triple Aim


ABFM Continues Certification Process Upgrades
Changes to MC-FP Entry/Re-entry, Definition of Board Eligibility Take Effect


More From AAFP
Maintenance of Certification CME