ABR Ensures Quality Health Care
by Toby Gordon, ScD, ABR Governor
Since joining the ABR Board of Governors (BOG) last year, I have been doing a deep dive into the critical role that organizations like the ABR play in ensuring quality health care in the United States. One of my passions is the history of medicine, and the stories of why and how professional medical associations were founded helps put the ABR’s vital role in perspective.
Across medical specialties, each board was founded from the shared belief that experts in the field should be the standard setters and certifiers of member expertise. Through self-governance by its members, specialty boards put processes into place to set standards, guarantee ongoing education, and provide certification. All of this lays the foundation for excellence in quality of care.
How boards like the ABR certify that their members have the requisite skills and knowledge to benefit patients is not well understood by the public, nor by many people in health care. I am learning about the hard and important work done by the ABR, largely behind the scenes and not apparent to the ultimate beneficiaries, the American people. When I teach MBA students who are interested in health care about how organizations like the ABR ensure quality, they are surprised. They know more about the roles that government and private insurance companies play in what practitioners can and can’t do. They find it reassuring that groups like the ABR operate solely in the public’s interest. They are impressed that even as medical knowledge has explosively expanded, specialty boards have continued to meet their missions.
As the first public member of the ABR BOG, I serve with a group of radiologists, radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, and medical physicists who manage the responsibilities of standard setting and certification, along with the other board members and diplomates who also volunteer their time and expertise. The board’s business reflects the era in which we live, with technology and testing methodologies often dominating the discussion.
I can’t help but think about what meetings might have been like in the early years after the ABR was founded in 1934. Radiologists then no doubt had to keep current with a complex and burgeoning field to understand the risks associated with the x-ray equipment they were using and to learn how to interpret the results. There must have been talk of radiologists’ mortality, because in 1936, Dr. Perry Brown published “American martyrs to science through Roentgen rays” – essays about the deaths of scientists and radiologists from burns and exposures. It is against that sobering backdrop that the board got down to the business of certifying that our diplomates demonstrate the requisite knowledge, skill and understanding of their disciplines to the benefit of patients.
While the risks that faced early members of the field may have abated, the dedication to the ABR’s mission has burgeoned. The certification process is one of the many ways to ensure quality of care. Like x-rays, it may not be visible, but its great effects are apparent to me as a member interested in the public’s well-being.