The American Academy of Family Physicians’ (AAFP) launched a new tool, Family Medicine Residency Explorer (www.healthlandscape.org), designed to help family medicine residency programs accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) succeed in the move to a single graduate medical education (GME) accreditation system.

Programs currently accredited solely by the AOA have until June 30, 2020, to meet accreditation standards of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and retain their status as accredited residency programs.

Concern is growing about the potential for lost family medicine residency slots if osteopathic programs aren't accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in a timely manner – and rural and community-based osteopathic residencies are particularly vulnerable to transition challenges because of a lack of resources within their communities.

The urgency of the situation is outlined in statistics gathered by family physician Julie Petersen, D.O., a health policy fellow at the Washington-based Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care and fellow researchers at the Graham Center -- David Grolling, M.P.S.; Graham Center Medical Director Winston Liaw, M.D., M.P.H.; and Graham Center Director Andrew Bazemore, M.D., M.P.H. -- is titled "Osteopathic Family Medicine Medical Education Status During the Single Accreditation System Transition" and is scheduled to be published in the near future.

Data that Petersen gathered from an area of the AOA website that lists residency program opportunities(opportunities.osteopathic.org) revealed that 91 percent of AOA-accredited programs had not yet received ACGME accreditation.

Based on numbers recorded as of April 11, 2017, as many as 623 family medicine residency slots per year are at risk of being lost because of the single accreditation system process at a time when the primary care workforce pipeline needs more recruits.

And the numbers put rural America at particular risk. Petersen found that 31 rural programs – 91 percent of the total number of rural programs – had not yet made the transition.

According to an AOA report, (www.osteopathic.org) about 56 percent of osteopathic physicians work in a primary care specialty, and about 16 percent of osteopathic family medicine residency programs are located in rural areas, Petersen noted.

Evidence shows that many programs in the AOA community have begun the transition process, she said. However, "The majority of these AOA programs have not yet achieved ACGME accreditation, and so we as a community need to be vigilant and aware of this transition as it happens.

Stan Kozakowski, M.D., director of the AAFP Division of Medical Education, said the immediate challenge facing the AOA-only accredited programs right now is that programs must achieve "pre-accreditation" status with the ACGME if they are to participate in the 2018 AOA residency matching program.

"In plain English, that means AOA programs must only have applied and sent in their application by Dec. 31, 2017," Kozakowski said.