Physician ePortfolio: The Missing Piece for Linking Performance With Improvement

Clinical data should contribute to practice-based learning and improvement, resulting in improved patient care as well as meeting increasingly rigorous physician accountability requirements.

Published Online: December 23, 2010
Nancy L. Davis, PhD; Lloyd Myers, RPh; and Zachary E. Myers

The movement toward improvement in healthcare quality and patient safety has led to greater emphasis on practice performance measurement and physician accountability. Health information technology provides clinical data for quality measurement but hasn't provided the link to practicebased learning and improvement. An electronic portfolio for practice-based learning and improvement (ePortfolio) that combines practice data for identification of competency and performance gaps along with learning and process interventions offers true practice-based learning and performance improvement. Automated reporting can assist in the ever-increasing burden of documentation for maintenance of licensure, maintenance of specialty board certification, credentialing, payer recognition programs, and other physician accountability requirements.


(Am J Manag Care. 2010;16(12 Spec No.):SP57-SP61)

Use of practice data that are collected and analyzed through health information technology will lead to practice-based learning and improvement resulting in:


  • Improved patient care. n Linkages of practice measurement and interventions for improvement.


  • Reporting for physician accountability such as licensure, board certification, and credentialing, and effective pay-for-performance.
The turn of the 21st century brought a new focus on healthcare quality and patient safety. Drivers of this movement included reports by the Institute of Medicine and RAND, which revealed a healthcare quality crisis.1,2 These early reports ignited a firestorm that led to the recent passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and national health reform through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Inherent to these acts is the premise that quality improvement is the key to the transformation of the US healthcare system.3,4

Although many interventions have been proposed to advance quality, information technology has emerged as the chief vehicle for driving change.5 A well-articulated blueprint has been developed by the health information technology (HIT) community, which focuses primarily on electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs).6 However, a vital piece of the HIT framework is missing: the electronic portfolio for practice-based learning and improvement (ePortfolio). The ePortfolio supports physicians in their mission-critical role as champions for continuous quality improvement (CQI). It bridges the divide between practice performance assessment and medical education to connect physicians to interventions based on performance patterns and actual gaps in their delivery of care. Studies have shown that linking learning and performance in just such a physician-centric format leads to improved quality and health outcomes.7-9

To date, use of ePortfolios that link performance and learning has been limited, in part because of the unavailability of rich patient-level data sets attributable to the physician and the lack of awareness of their potential and value. With the widespread adoption of EHR and HIE systems on the horizon, access to this crucial data is finally within reach. Once ePortfolios are fully operational on a continuous basis, the value to physicians, patients, and other stakeholders will be realized. The key to rapid, meaningful increases in quality  improvement may be the ability to deploy ePortfolios between health plans (including managed care organizations), providers, and provider organizations for quality initiatives that include pay-for-performance (P4P), appropriate use, and clinical pathway implementation.

In this article we provide a brief history of the convergence of medical education and quality management so that readers can understand the need for a provider-centric ePortfolio that supports both performance and learning. In addition, we describe general characteristics and required features of the ePortfolio, as well as touch pointsfor the physician-authorized exchange of information among systems. The value and impact of this platform for managed care organizations, their provider networks, and various other stakeholders within the healthcare community will be evident through increased quality, efficiency, and provider satisfaction.


Medical education and quality management have been traditionally siloed in medical schools, medical specialty societies, hospitals, and other healthcare organizations. Therefore, use of performance measurement in the development of medical education specific to addressing gaps in performance was rarely considered. The continuum of medical education has not provided for continuous performance measurement and improvement.

In the past, the provider’s professional responsibilities related to licensure, specialty board certification, and credentialing were relatively easy to understand and straightforward to maintain. Learning, in particular the need to accumulate continuing medical education (CME) credit, was a “check the box” requirement. In addition, tracking compliance often was accomplished using simple data systems, manila folders, or the proverbial shoe box full of paper certificates of participation. The traditional concept of CME, however, has been exposed as having little value in changing physician behavior or healthcare outcomes.10 The forward-thinking concept of continuous professional development and its focus on lifelong learning emerged from the void left by CME. Where CME was characterized by intermittent activities that were focused on global needs, continuous professional development is learner-centric, focused on the lifelong learning needs of the individual physician.

Prior to 2001, quality management was primarily a focus of hospitals and health systems interested in emulating the quality improvement efforts found in other sectors, such as

the automotive industry.11 The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the American Board of Medical Specialties shifted the focus of quality management to physicians’ training and practice when they defined the 6 core competencies, including the addition of practice-based learning and improvement.12,13 Similar to continuous quality improvement models, practice-based learning and improvement has been defined as the ability of a physician to (1) monitor practice, (2) reflect on or analyze practice to identify   learning or improvement needs relevant to improving practice, (3) engage in learning or plan improvement, (4) apply new learning or improvement to practice, and (5) measure and monitor the impact of the learning or improvement on performance.14

The forces of reform are driving the convergence of quality management and medical education, and significantly raising the stakes surrounding the physician’s professional accountability. The transition of CME to continuous professional development and lifelong learning, and the entrée of practice-based learning and improvement as a core competency, indicate how the professional landscape has been altered as a result of healthcare reform.

The impact of this revolutionary change and its meaning to providers can be tracked along 2 axes. The first is the integration of quality management requirements, including practice-based learning and improvement, into high-stakes professional programs, which include maintenance of licensure and maintenance of specialty board certification. These new requirements reflect a fundamental change in philosophy in the “house of medicine” from a focus on cognitive learning and assessment through CME and written examinations to ongoing assessment, lifelong learning, and improvement in practice.

The second axis of change is linkage of practice-based P4P initiatives to professional certification programs. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provides an additional bonus incentive for completing the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative through a medical specialty board’s program for maintenance of specialty board certification.15 Private payers such as Highmark BlueCross and BlueShield also have begun to merge practice and professionalism, as evidenced by their QualityBlue P4P Program.16 In that case, a section titled “Best Practices” provides physicians with points toward an incentive bonus for completing performance improvement activities through national organizations including the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Osteopathic Association, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, and others.

These new concepts will require much more than a 1-time chart abstraction for quality review or reporting of CME credit. Various stakeholders will be requesting that physicians participate in ongoing performance improvement through practice measurement, analysis of practice data, and implementation of interventions for improvement that include education and systems-based process improvement, followed by remeasurement to continuously assess change and measure performance in practice. Other changes include reporting requirements for maintenance of specialty board certification and maintenance of licensure, multiple P4P and reporting programs, the Joint Commission’s Ongoing Professional Performance Evaluation, Risk Evaluation Mitigation Strategies mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, accountable care organizations, and others. Although these comprehensive changes will help bring provider accountability in line with public and provider stakeholder expectations, they also will bring a new level of complexity. Significant efforts to align these various programs are under way, driven by stakeholders such as the American Board of Medical Specialties, CMS, and progressive health plans. However, there remains an urgent need for HIT to support physicians in their continuous quality improvement efforts and to help them manage an ever-increasing reporting burden.


Electronic portfolios are a key theme in higher education due to their ability to promote a learner-centered approach to education with a focus on reflection and outcomes.17 As a

“learning portfolio” their primary function is to store documents, complete assessments, identify learning goals, build personal development plans, and present educational programming, combined with the ability to reflect on these activities, track their outcomes, and share the results with mentors. For practicing physicians, these would be welcome tools to assist them with their continuous professional development and lifelong learning needs.

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