State medical boards lax in oversight and discipline of bad doctors
(University of California “Reporting on Health,” 12/29/10)
Medical boards from coast to coast do a terrible job of protecting patients and informing the public about bad doctors. On December 29, 2010, the University of Southern California (USC) published the findings of a year-long review of the records of 100 physicians in every state and the District of Columbia. The review highlighted 51 doctors who were responsible for injuring or killing 290 individuals through medical errors that included overdosing, blinding and misdiagnosing patients. The majority of these doctors, 82%, are still in practice. This is partly because state medical boards take too long to act or mete out weak discipline. A second factor is that 70% of the doctors are licensed in multiple states, so when they get in trouble in one state, they simply set up practice in another.
The USC investigation showed gross inconsistency in the way board handles discipline for the same offense, from license revocation to an ineffective letter placed in a file. Some disturbing trends were revealed, including several states that regularly send doctors with history of fraud, negligence and abuse to practice in poor communities where patients are already vulnerable. Hospitals and physician’s groups not only shirk their responsibilities to warn medical boards and the public about bad doctors, but shield them, instead.
Patients have a right to know if their doctors have harmed their patients, but they must be proactive; checking the state medical board’s records is not enough. Patients should push their state lawmakers to strengthen oversight and disciplinary procedures against bad doctors and those who protect them from the consequences of their actions.