Physician ePortfolio: The Missing Piece for Linking Performance With Improvement

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)

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.

PDF is available on the last page.

Issue: Special Issue: Health Information Technology — Guest Editors: Sachin H. Jain, MD, MBA; and David Blumenthal, MD, MPP
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