Verifying medical credentials: Yet another Health IT task

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with the health infrastructure in tatters, authorities struggled to verify the credentials of doctors who arrived to offer help. The VA, HHS and medical boards are working on the issue.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with the health infrastructure in tatters, authorities struggled to verify the credentials of doctors who arrived to offer help. Other areas also had trouble confirming qualifications of doctors who had left Louisiana to practice elsewhere.

That particular aspect of the disaster made no headlines but it was the subject of a conference in Washington recently, Government HealthIT reports. Will IT systems provide a way to credential doctors in the next emergency? Or will the same problems remain next year or five years from now?

“Credentials of the future will have to look very different from what they look like today,” said Dale Austin, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and one of several experts who made presentations at the briefing “Medical Credentialing: Are We Ready?”

To get ready, public and private organizations at the national, state and local levels are developing independent IT solutions for verifying health care professionals’ identities, credentials, expertise and competence, panelists said. A primary objective of enhanced verification is to thwart the “fakers, con artists and artful dodgers” who would subvert the system for confirming medical professionals’ qualifications.

To make it through Katrina, the Federation of State Medical Boards set up ad hoc systems that verified 1,200 doctors’ licenses in a six-week period. Too often, however, verification took days. The Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs helped as well.

But verifying credentials is not all there is to it, said Christopher McLaughlin, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals initiative.

“Hospitals are hesitant to accept volunteers who don’t have a high level of credential verification,” McLaughlin said. “It’s more than verifying identity.”

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