Judges Uphold Calif. Limits on Medical-Certification Claims

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The state of California may prohibit physicians from advertising that they are "board-certified" unless the certification comes from a board or association that meets specific requirements, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three judge panel for the San Francisco’s federal appeals court on Jan. 2 rejected claims by the American Academy of Pain Management that the restriction violates First Amendment rights. The academy certifies professionals in the pain management field including athletic trainers, chiropractors, social workers and practitioners of oriental medicine as well as physicians, dentists and nurses.

The judges noted that the group requires only two years of experience in the field, no formal postgraduate training and its certification exam generally takes to two hours to complete. Medical Board of California regulations, on the other hand, require certifying board exams to be at least 16 hours.

Furthermore, as of March 1996, more than 80% of the academy’s members had not taken the exam but were grandfathered into the group, the judges pointed out. California was within its bounds, they said, by ensuring that claims of board certification have some consistent meaning without precluding professionals that can’t claim certification from stating their specialties and special educational.

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