American medicine has progressively embraced transparency and accountability in professional self-regulation. While public members serving on health care regulatory boards involved with the accreditation, assessment, certification, education, and licensing of physicians provide formal opportunities for voicing public interests, their presence has not been deeply explored. Using 2016 survey and interview data from health care organizations and public members, the authors explore the value and challenges of public members. Public members were often defined as individuals who did not have a background in health care and provided a patient perspective, but in some instances prior health care experience did not automatically exclude these individuals from serving as public members. Public members served on the majority of national health care regulatory boards and constituted an average 9% to 15% of board composition, depending on how rigidly the organizations defined "public member." Public members were valued for their commitment to the priorities and interests of the public, ability to help boards maintain that public focus, and various professional skills they offer to boards. A main challenge that public members faced was their lack of familiarity with and knowledge of the health care field. The authors suggest several considerations for improved public member integration into health care regulatory organizations: clearly defined roles of public members, including evaluating whether or not previous health care experience either contributes or hinders their role within the organization; greater visibility of opportunities for the public to serve on these boards; and potentially a more intensive orientation for public members.
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