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State Medical Boards Are Slow To Discipline Doctors

A recent USA Today investigation has revealed that thousands of doctors who have been banned by hospitals or other medical facilities are not punished by their state medical boards. Many of these sanctions were due to medical malpractice. A copy of the report can be found here.

For the investigation, reporters looked at data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a federal repository that helps medical boards track physicians’ license records, malpractice payments and disciplinary actions imposed by hospitals, HMOs and other institutions that manage doctors. By law, reports must be filed with the Data Bank when any one of the nation’s doctors faces “adverse actions” and the reports are intended to be monitored closely by medical boards.

The research showed:

• From 2001 to 2011, nearly 6,000 doctors had their clinical privileges restricted or taken away for misconduct involving patient care – but more than 3,000 either were not fined or never saw their medical license affected.
• Nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by health care institutions were cited as an “immediate threat to health and safety,” yet their licenses were not restricted or taken away.
• About 900 doctors were cited for substandard care, negligence, incompetence, or malpractice, yet they kept practicing with no impact to their license.
• About 800 of the nearly 100,000 doctors who made payments toward malpractice claims from 2001 to 2011 accounted for 10% of the total malpractice payouts; this means that each of them averaged about $5.2 million payout. Even with this, fewer than one in five faced any sort of license action by a state medical board.

The article focuses on one particularly serious example of a 44-year-old woman who sought treatment from a Texas physician who had faced multiple sanctions over the span of a decade for mismanaging patients’ medications and abusing drugs himself. However, the physician was never stripped of his license and continued to see patients, despite two deaths that occurred under his watch. After the physician incorrectly prescribed the woman a dangerously toxic combination of powerful narcotics for her neck pain and thyroid problems, she died from an unintentional overdose. Yet it took more than four years of investigations and negotiations before the state medical board finally barred the physician from seeing patients.

The report suggests that doctors accused of medical misconduct continue to practice medicine for years even after fatal mistakes. Even though reports of misconduct are required by law to be filed, monitoring these reports can sometimes prove difficult for lack of resources. Records also paint a grim picture of state and federal oversight systems that are rife with bias as doctors often are inclined to protect their colleagues, or go after those who compete with them.

The safety of patients is at stake when they are treated by doctors who are guilty of medical misconduct, or have settled or paid out medical malpractice lawsuits, but have not been disciplined by their state boards. Medical malpractice is daunting, particularly because doctors are trusted professionals with access to powerful medications. Yet when patients have received medical care that does not measure up to the standards accepted by the medical community, they may be able to file a medical malpractice claim. One of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys may be able to assist people in seeking compensation for any condition that they obtained or for conditions made worse due to physician negligence.

As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled a number of medical malpractice cases involving doctors who have repeatedly been charged with misconduct. To see some of the cases I have handled, click here.