The American Medical Association apologized to state and county medical societies last week for bungling the implementation of its new doctor accreditation program.
AMA delegates at their interim meeting in Dallas complained that the association proceeded without consulting local societies that have their own credentialing programs.
"Local efforts should be preserved and not swallowed up . . . by the giant from Chicago," said Frank W. Phelps, M.D., a delegate from Oklahoma.
During a hearing, trustee Nancy Dickey, M.D., apologized that the "technique of communication may have hampered or damaged" the American Medical Accreditation Program. She said staff members would change their "tone and aggressiveness."
The apology helped quash a resolution by the Arizona delegation to kill the accreditation program altogether. Critics focused on cost as well as "insensitive" AMAP staff. The AMA has spent or budgeted $4.1 million thus far on the AMAP and is expected to roll out the program in a first state, New Jersey, this winter after months of delays.
The AMAP was initiated in 1996 as a way to streamline physician credentialing. The AMA also believes the AMAP will curb initiatives by nonphysicians to judge doctor quality.
Barely mentioned in the debate was a common theme among external critics of the accreditation program that the physician lobby group is not in a position to rate doctors objectively.
Also defeated was a proposal that would have required the AMAP to get the approval of local societies before operating in their areas; the measure could have hindered the AMAP's ability to contract with HMOs and hospitals.
Delegates resolved that the AMAP should collaborate with local societies and give them preference as contractors.
Later, sparks flew over accreditation standards. The AMAP will only recognize specialty certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which restricts its membership in order to prevent overlap.
Non-ABMS boards argued unsuccessfully that the AMAP should conduct its own evaluations of certifying boards to determine which ones maintain high standards.
The ABMS countered that having the AMAP do its own evaluations would create two board-recognition bodies and confuse the public.