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Disclosures for All 

The August 15 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine published an article “Effect of Access to an Electronic Medical Resource on Performance Characteristics of a Certification Examination - Randomized Controlled Trial" (1). The study examined open book vs. closed book testing for the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) examination and found no or minimal changes in the outcomes between the two testing conditions.

All in all, this is not very exciting. However, what is interesting is a blog on the article written by Westby G. Fisher, MD in his Dr. Wes blog (2). He examined the disclosures from the Annals editors of the article who claimed no financial relationships or interests to disclose. However, Fisher points out that on its last available Form 990, the publishers of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians (ACP), earned over $24.6 million in a single year selling their Medical Knowledge Self-Assessment Program to US physicians to study for their board certification and recertification examinations (3). Furthermore, Fisher notes that an accompanying editorial written by ACP's former senior executive vice president, Steven E. Weinberger, MD, a pulmonologist and an employee of the ACP, also did not disclose any meaningful conflicts. However, with compensation of nearly $800,000 in 2014, Weinberger’s compensation was over 3 times the average compensation of pulmonolgists in the Middle Atlantic states of $226,000 (3,4). It seems unlikely that unless their financial status was healthy that the ACP could have afforded a luxury such as Dr. Weinberger.

Fisher notes that the study was conceived exclusively by the American Board of Internal Medicine and executed by their corporate partners at PearsonVue and Wolters Kluwer. However, PearsonVue had more than a minor role in the research and had access to the study registrants' names, addresses, and probably more (2). Each of the 825 physicians enrolled in the study received $250 from the ABIM Foundation. None of the participants were told about the financial benefits to the ABIM, PearsonVue, Wolters Kluwer, or their content creators for participation in this study.

The financial future of many of the 24 approved medical specialty boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and the 18 approved medical specialty boards of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) was in doubt until maintenance of certification (MOC) was conceived back in the 1980’s (2). Since then there have been multiple attempts to show MOC leads to better patient outcomes, but to my knowledge, no meaningful improvements have been shown (5-7). Furthermore, advertising for MOC programs with slogans such as “Is your doctor board-certified?” likely led to an erosion of faith in the medical profession. These MOC programs can largely be lumped with other money-making schemes such as continuing medical education and hospital recertification which are funded on the backs of physicians, are time-consuming and have not been shown to improve care.

According to Fisher (2), “conflicted research” as published in the Annals of Internal Medicine misleads the public and represents little more than a free advertising for the financial agendas of MOC organizations who benefit from the research. Furthermore, “…it sets and incredibly low (and untrustworthy) bar for all of academic publishing.”

Although this is strong language, Fisher is right. Disclosures need to be full and honest from all. Here are ours. The cost of the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care (SWJPCC) is funded by the non-profit Phoenix Pulmonary and Critical Care Research and Education Foundation. None of the foundation board of directors, the editors, associate editors, staff, reviewers or authors receive any compensation. Our operating expenses are less than $5000/year and our income is dependent on donations to our foundation. We hope this reassures our readers that we have no hidden agenda and that what they read in the SWJPCC is honestly reviewed.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC


  1. Lipner RS, Brossman BG, Samonte KM, Durning SJ. Effect of Access to an Electronic Medical Resource on Performance Characteristics of a Certification Examination: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Aug 15 [Epub ahead of print]. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  2. Fisher WG. Fake news: Annals of Internal Medicine's disclosures. Dr. Wes. August 16, 2017. Available at: (accessed 8/17/17).
  3. American College of Physicians Form 990. 2014. Available at: (accessed 8/17/17).
  4. Peckham C. Medscape pulmonologist compensation report 2014. Medscape. April 15, 2014. Available at: (accessed 8/17/17).
  5. Buscemi D, Wang H, Phy M, Nugent K. Maintenance of certification in Internal Medicine: participation rates and patient outcomes. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. 2013 Jan 7;2(4). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Hayes J, Jackson JL, McNutt GM, Hertz BJ, Ryan JJ, Pawlikowski SA.Association between physician time-unlimited vs time-limited internal medicine board certification and ambulatory patient care quality. JAMA. 2014 Dec 10;312(22):2358-63. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  7. Gray BM, Vandergrift JL, Johnston MM, Reschovsky JD, Lynn LA, Holmboe ES, McCullough JS, Lipner RS. Association between imposition of a Maintenance of Certification requirement and ambulatory care-sensitive hospitalizations and health care costs. JAMA. 2014 Dec 10;312(22):2348-57. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 

Cite as: Robbins RA. Disclosures for all. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(2):87-9. doi: PDF 

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