Physicians satisfy a range of criteria to earn the credentials necessary to maintain their medical practice. In addition to continuing medical education credits, specialist physicians must earn maintenance of certification points (MOCs).
What is the Difference Between MOC vs CME?
While both are systems of medical education and assessment, they measure a different set of criteria. Generally, MOCs ensure that physicians are fit to practice medicine in their specialty, whereas CME is designed to ensure a physician’s (or other health practitioner’s) medical knowledge is up to date.
CME is typically referred to as “credits” whereas MOC is accrued in “points.” Each is recorded differently. The number of credits earned with a CME activity may not earn the corresponding number of MOC points.
The primary difference between CME vs MOC is which medical authorities set their criteria and the medical credentials those authorities award. Medical specialty boards such as the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) oversee the credentials administered to physicians in medical specialties such as neurology or pediatrics, abbreviated as MOC. State medical boards oversee CME requirements for their respective states.
What is Continuing Medical Education (CME)?
CME is a system of learning aimed at supporting a physician’s pursuit of new and improved medical skills. State medical boards deal with licensing, disciplining and regulating physicians to maintain high standards of medical care. Boards use CME as one mechanism to facilitate these goals and can revoke the medical licenses of those physicians who do not complete CME requirements.
What are Maintenance of Certification (MOC) Points?
Medical specialty boards are non-profit organizations that oversee a system of Maintenance of Certification points designed to determine a physician’s fitness to practice medicine. MOCs measure a clinician’s knowledge, clinical aptitude and communication skills. Each specialty, such as internal medicine (ABIM) or pediatrics (American Board of Pediatrics) sets its own MOC criteria with guidance from the ABMS.
Is MOC a Form of Continuing Education?
MOC is a system of medical specialty certification that involves satisfying continuing education criteria. However, references to CME usually refer to systems of continuing medical education used as state medical board licensing criteria and are not associated with specialization.
How MOC Activities are Different From CME Activities
Beyond an overview of the medical board system and each of the CME and MOC, physicians, especially those in a specialty, should know that MOC is generally considered more complex and are specific to each specialty. Generally, MOC criteria are divided into four parts:
- Professional standing
- Life-long learning and self-assessment
- Cognitive expertise
- Performance in practice
Each pillar corresponds to a type of MOC activity. These are largely analogous to types of CME activities, without the formal structure of designations. Each is assigned a point value that can be assigned to the relevant pillar upon completion. MOC also requires an examination be passed by physicians every five to 10 years, depending on the specialty.
While CME provides tremendous value to practitioners by reinforcing and enhancing a wide range of medical skills and topics, it is considered a more flexible, general form of continuing education than those required for MOC. MOC and the continuing education completed to earn points focuses on the technical medical and knowledge of a given medical specialty.
Applying CME Credit to MOC Points
Some CME activities can be completed for MOC points. For CME credit to count toward MOC totals, the content will need to reflect your specialty. Both Category 1 and 2 activities could count towards your MOC point totals.
Not only can CME activities be used to earn MOC points, but the same CME activity can be used to earn CME and MOC points. You will want to check with both your state licensing board as well as the professional organization that administers your MOC credentials first. The Accreditation Council for Continuing Education (ACCME) website is also a resource on CME activities for MOC points.
Your specialty board (such as the ABIM) will have specific criteria and requirements regarding the application of CME credits toward CME requirements. Documentation, points allocation and reporting deadlines differ depending on which system your activity applies to.
The Role of CME Providers in Offering CME Activities for MOC Points
CME providers are required to register CME activities for MOC points with the ACCME. You’ll want to contact the CME provider to inquire about the process of CME activity eligibility and the MOC points awarded for a CME activity.
It is often not enough to provide your specialty medical board with a certification of CME completion. The CME provider may have to provide the documentation directly to your medical board.
How many points a CME activity can earn you towards MOC requirements depends on the activity type and could differ by a professional organization. The deadlines and timeframes for earning CME credits vs MOC points can also be different. It is possible to apply CME credit to MOC points even if CME credits were earned towards a previous year’s total.
What Physicians Know About CME and MOC
The penalties for failing to complete CME requirements include the inability to renew their state board medical license and incurring financial penalties for a lapsed license. The physician may be required to complete the incomplete hours. The physician could still face disciplinary action during the renewal process for unprofessional conduct, even if overdue CME requirements are satisfied.
Hospitals and insurance companies require physicians to earn credits to remain in good standing and will deny certain privileges if MOC is not current.
While doctors will still be eligible to practice general medicine in their state even if they don’t earn enough MOC points or fail their exam, there are significant penalties if you practice in your specialty without their sponsorship. Penalties for failing to complete MOC requirements for your specialty include fines, legal penalties and sanctioning by specialty boards.