The American Medical Association has taken a major step toward adding one or more public members to its governing board.
Currently all 20 AMA trustees are physicians except one medical student representative.
Nonphysician representation would enhance the credibility of the 152-year-old professional association, according to an internal council that studied the idea. The AMA has long said that it represents the public interest.
Meeting last week in San Diego, the AMA House of Delegates ordered an implementation plan to be developed for consideration at its next meeting, in June 2000.
The idea arose in a report by an ad hoc committee created to study the AMA's structure, governance and operations following its controversial decision to endorse Sunbeam Corp. products in 1997. AMA board members were informed of the deal in advance and failed to stop it.
In a report issued before last week's meeting, the AMA's Council on Long Range Planning and Development said a public member would "create a litmus test for how the external world may perceive the AMA's actions."
The implementation plan, to be created by the council, would address qualifications, term lengths, selection process and number of public members.
The council identified two medical associations, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, that have nonphysician board members.
Among other healthcare organizations, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has six public members, and the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education has two. The American Hospital Association has had one public member since 1996.
It's uncommon for membership and professional societies to have public representatives on their boards, although some are adopting the practice, said Kathleen Enright, spokeswoman for the Washington-based National Center for Nonprofit Boards.
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has three public members on its 23-member board. The American Bar Association, however, has none.
"The issues of a professional society are no longer primarily internal," Enright said. "They may not best be handled by people with entirely the same skill sets."
The AMA's council reported that representatives from several organizations with public members said that they valued the input, and some had increased or were considering increasing the number of public members.