The American Medical Association's physician accreditation program, set for launch this summer, won't be an information bonanza for consumers.
The AMA will conceal how individual physicians score in its American Medical Accreditation Program and won't offer means for comparison as accreditors of health plans and hospitals do. Accredited physicians will be listed on the AMA's World Wide Web site.
The AMAP's initial standards, released last week, skirt the difficult issues of patient outcomes and satisfaction. They resemble typical hospital medical staff standards (See chart, p. 3).
The release of the standards was just one of a series of moves by a number of healthcare special-interest groups last week to bolster their constituencies' standing or reputation with the public, other segments of the industry or lawmakers (See related stories, p. 6).
Despite the shortcomings in the AMA's accreditation program, the association is trying hard to convince health plans, hospitals, consumers and physicians that it can effectively rate its own constituents.
"Not every physician will meet AMAP's exacting requirements," said Randolph D. Smoak Jr., M.D., chair of the AMAP's governing body.
Applications will be sent to physicians in Alabama, Massachusetts and New Jersey by early summer, with other states to follow. The first physicians could be accredited by fall. Physicians will pay a fee, potentially $50 for AMA members and $150 for nonmembers, to apply.
Release of the standards met with tepid reactions from some purchaser and consumer groups.
"I believe some consumers will find it valuable to have a stamp of approval from a very credible organization like the AMA, but I guess the question is, valuable for what?" said David Lansky, president of the Portland, Ore.-based Foundation for Accountability, an alliance of public and private healthcare purchaser and consumer organizations.
Larry Boress, vice president of the Midwest Business Group on Health, thinks the bar is set too low, especially because of the lack of patient-care measures. Boress did, however, call the program a good start given the political difficulties. "It's not the end product. I think they have to take small steps and get acceptance from the profession," he said.
The AMA intends to add patient-satisfaction and clinical outcomes measures by 1999.
Part of the accreditation program's goal when it was unveiled in June 1996 was to streamline physician credentialing by creating a data warehouse that hospitals and health plans could access for a fee.
But, earlier this month, the American Association of Health Plans released a standardized physician application form, and the National Committee for Quality Assurance unveiled a program to enable medical groups and other physician organizations to credential their own members.