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Physician Exam Scandal Inquiry Raises More Questions

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 12, 2010

The American Board of Internal Medicine's proposed sanctioning of 139 physicians by the ABIM for passing along and receiving exam questions from a test preparation company is getting messier.

Here's why. A lengthy appeals process is underway, with potentially 80 lawyers involved, which always means complexities and various paths toward getting to the truth. And questions are growing, at least in my mind, about whom exactly the ABIM is targeting. One of those physicians cited for sanctioning includes someone who had taken the test at least two decades ago, sources tell me. ABIM proposed sanctioning this person, related to handling of the questions, and the potential is that the physician could lose his or her certificate.

Excuse me? 20 years?

No joke. Why the ABIM is involving this doctor is beyond me. What's the point? Is there a statute of limitations on this?
The individual has not been identified, and attorneys decline to discuss the matter.

The imbroglio over the testing began when the ABIM cited the 139 physicians in June for improper conduct over the testing. The board said it stripped scores of physicians of their board certifications for periods ranging from one  to five years. 

The major target of the investigation was Arora Board Review, a New Jersey test-preparation course that apparently for years shared information garnered from physicians who took the ABIM test with other would be test takers, according to ABIM. The principal of Arora Board Review has surrendered his certificate to perform the tests. ABIM also has filed court action against Arora personnel for improperly disseminating copyrighted test questions.

The ABIM has sent what some have dubbed "shame on you" letters to about 2,700 physicians who took the test. These doctors were not accused of wrongdoing, but the board believes should have known what was going on and possibly revealed the conduct to the board.

For those 139 physicians whose certificate faces possible suspension, the appeals process is beginning, and already seems drenched in bureaucracy and potential conflict.

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