To better protect consumers from unqualified health practitioners, healthcare professionals should be held to national education, credentialing and regulation standards, according to a new report from the Pew Health Professions Commission.
To facilitate such standards, Congress should create a national policy advisory body to research and publish scope-of-practice guidelines and competency standards that states can implement.
Those recommendations are part of a report released last week called "Strengthening Consumer Protection: Priorities for Health Care Workforce Regulation," published by the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California-San Francisco.
The report is the Pew Commission's most recent on upgrading professional licensing standards and ensuring accountability of healthcare workers.
The report notes that the "ostensible goal of professional regulation-to establish standards that protect consumers from incompetent practitioners-is eclipsed by the tacit goal of protecting the professions' economic prerogatives." This protection translates into less than full accountability for the professionals and less access to care, the report said.
The report recommends that:
At least one-third of the members of state professional boards be members of the public, to make the boards more accountable.
States allow disclosure of malpractice settlements.
States implement uniform scopes of practice for each profession so that interstate mobility is not an issue.
States require professionals to demonstrate competence at regular intervals. The present continuing-education system does not guarantee competence.
Ed O'Neil, executive director of the Pew Health Professions Commission, said professionals should welcome more state involvement in setting practice parameters.
"If we had uniform practice acts at the state level that permitted people to demonstrate competence and still had their title protected, it would let them practice more widely, and the health system would have a much richer set of resources to work with," O'Neil said.
The report also recommends opening the National Practitioner Data Bank to the public and expanding its reports to include all healthcare practitioners.
The data bank, a repository of malpractice judgments, collects information on allopathic and osteopathic physicians, dentists and podiatrists. The American Medical Association has long fought the public release of this data.