Everyone makes mistakes. But when you are a doctor with a pattern of mistakes that harm your patients, one would think you would eventually be barred from practicing. That is not always the case. According to an investigative report by USA Today, thousands of doctors are still practicing after being banned by hospitals and other medical facilities. These doctors are putting everyone they come in contact with at risk of a serious medical injury.
Why Physicians Found with Misconduct Continue to Practice Medicine
From the outside, it seems simple enough: a doctor is found to be practicing unsafe medicine and putting patients at an undue risk of harm that results in injuries and even death. That doctor is barred from a hospital where these “mistakes” were reported. The state medical board should take that evidence and, in the interest of keeping patients safe, immediately act to stop the physician from practicing. But the process isn’t so simple and can take years to work, if it works at all.
USA Today found that of nearly 6,000 doctors banned from hospitals and medical institutions between 2001 and 2011, 52% or more than 3,000 of them never faced sanctions by the state medical board. This applied even to the most serious misconduct cases. The report says that about 250 of the doctors sanctioned by their respective medical institutions were called an “immediate threat to health and safety” but still faced no licensing restrictions from the state board. They were found to be an immediate threat but were allowed to continue practicing.
These concerns are not new. They first came to the forefront in 1986 when a report from the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined the state medical boards were issuing “strikingly few disciplinary actions” for misconduct.
“If (medical boards) don’t have proper oversight, patients will get hurt and taxpayers will get hurt,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley and a group of senators asked the Inspector General for a “comprehensive evaluation” of state medical boards last year. But the inspector general hasn’t followed through, and there are no indications that he plans to.
Medical Malpractice Process is Lengthy Along With Other Issues
From the initial complaint or report of misconduct filed with the state medical board, it’s a long process to seek any disciplinary action against a physician. There are hearings, due process, investigations, and other factors that can hinder the speed of such investigations.
But there are other issues: state medical boards are often staffed by doctors with connections—who may be biased in favor of physicians. Peer-review boards, tasked with overseeing and reviewing complaints, often do a “poor job” and create a bottleneck in the complaint process. Finally, the sanctions doled out by the state medical boards lack teeth and allow doctors with frightening track records to keep practicing with little to no oversight.
As a result of the slow and often ineffective disciplinary process, patients are being hurt and even killed. The system isn’t doing enough to protect the patients and instead seems to be more interested in protecting the doctors. It’s important to talk with a medical malpractice lawyer dedicated to advocating for injured patients and their families.