The American Medical Association marked some progress in its 2-year-old struggle to become the accrediting body for the nation's physicians.
Altius Health Plans, based in Salt Lake City, said it will require its 2,000 physicians to be credentialed through the American Medical Accreditation Program, known as AMAP.
Altius, with 94,000 enrollees, is the state's third-largest HMO, according to the plan.
It's the only health plan in the nation that has agreed to use the accreditation program, according to the AMA. New Jersey's NYLCare Health Plans of the Atlantic agreed to adopt AMAP in late 1997, but the contract lapsed when NYLCare was purchased by Aetna several months later.
Altius Chief Medical Officer Dennis Harston, M.D., called AMAP "an important quality step forward."
Altius, along with the Utah Medical Association, has agreed to assist in promoting the accreditation program to the state's 3,700 physicians beginning this month. The plan intends to have all of its physicians go through AMAP over the next two years.
Credentialing functions will be performed by an independent company under contract with the AMA, said Mark Fotheringham, spokesman for the state medical association.
Altius is the former Utah operation of Santa Ana, Calif.-based PacifiCare Health Systems, which sold the plan to a group of private investors in October 1998. PacifiCare said the plan was losing money.
Conceived in 1996, AMAP aims to replace duplicative credentialing programs of health plans and hospitals. The AMA has signed contracts with medical societies in eight states and the District of Columbia to launch AMAP in their areas.
As of last week, no hospitals have contracted to use AMAP for their credentialing. And the program may have trouble winning over hospitals, according to Rick Kinnersley, president of the Utah Hospitals and Health Systems Association.
Kinnersley said the association declined to endorse the program because of its cost, even though it's a "quality product." He said AMAP costs two to three times more than current credentialing programs used by member hospitals.
"Some of our large corporate offices with their own credentialing staffs are doing it much less expensively," Kinnersley said. "Our desire was not only to simplify but to save costs."
But Harston said AMAP represents "a major advantage" to his health plan even if no other plan or hospital participates, because its requirements are more rigorous than current industry credentialing standards.
For example, he said, AMAP uniquely requires physicians to sign a code of ethics and includes rigorous site visits.
Harston said the AMA's plan to add outcomes measures to the accreditation program down the road indicates that it will be "an evolving plan for the future."