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Medical groups that obtain certification under the new Physician Organization Certification program of the National Committee for Quality Assurance in Washington, DC, will no doubt brag about it — but they will face limits on the claims they can make. NCQA is drafting rules governing marketing and advertising related to the program. One strong message: Certification is not the same as accreditation.
In granting certification, NCQA determines whether the medical group complies with specific standards, but doesn’t judge broader quality issues such as the integration of different clinical or administrative processes. Beyond credentials verification, it also doesn’t look at the practice of individual physicians.
The American Medical Association in Chicago has stepped into the gap of physician accreditation with its new program, American Medical Accreditation Program (AMAP). The AMA has released standards related to credentials, personal qualifications, and the environment of care, and will gradually add requirements related to performance assessment and quality improvement.
State medical societies and other organizations will manage the AMA program in individual states. By the end of 1997, six to eight states will launch the accreditation program. It will be available nationwide by the end of 1999, says William Jessee, MD, the AMA’s vice president for quality and managed care.
Physician groups can tout their AMA accreditation both to health plans and the general public, Jessee says. "When our first certificates come out, we’ll be blitzing the airwaves, advising consumers to look for the AMA seal of approval," says Jessee. "Good Housekeeping’ is exactly the prototype we have in mind."