While doctors relentlessly attack medical malpractice lawsuits as “frivolous,” it is a statistical fact that doctors with more than one medical malpractice claim or disciplinary action are responsible for a disproportionate number of medical malpractice claims. Therefore, doctors with disciplinary histories should be under increased scrutiny to insure that they are not committing more medical mistakes.
On August 9, 2011, Public Citizen (a well-respected, nonpartisan advocacy group whose efforts are intended to make “for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed”) sent a letter to California’s governor to bring attention to California’s problem with disciplining its doctors by the Medical Board of California (“Medical Board”). Public Citizen’s concern was the Medical Board’s failure to discipline 710 California doctors who were subject to discipline for wrongdoing by California hospitals and other health care organizations between September 1990 and December 31, 2009. (The Medical Board responded that part of the problem with its failure to discipline these doctors was the Medical Board’s understaffing and lack of resources.)
Public Citizen also found that 102 of the 710 doctors had been determined by peer reviewers to be an immediate threat to the health or safety of patients (the 710 doctors represented about one-half of the total number of doctors disciplined by California hospitals and other health care organizations during the period, and 35% of the 710 doctors were repeat offenders). Of the 220 doctors in the United States found to be an immediate threat to health or safety of patients, almost half were California doctors. These doctors who were found to be an immediate threat to health or safety of patients were all subjected to suspension, revocation, or limitations of their clinical privileges.
The wrongful acts of the California doctors who were not disciplined by the Medical Board included medical malpractice incidents, unintentionally leaving surgical equipment in patients during surgery, and alcohol or substance abuse by the doctors.
Public Citizen found that California’s doctor disciplinary rate has been steadily declining since 2006, with little effort to improve its doctor disciplinary rate (California used to be among the best states for doctor discipline but had fallen to 35th in Public Citizen’s 2011 analysis). In addressing the problem with California’s doctor disciplinary rate, a report by the California Medical Board Enforcement Program Monitor in 2005 recommended transferring medical board investigators to the California Department of Justice so that they can work directly with Health Quality Enforcement Section prosecutors (which has not been done) and increasing licensing fees so that the Medical Board’s budget could be increased (the budget has been increased but has not resulted in an increase in enforcement staff).
Bad doctors (our term used to describe doctors subjected to prior disciplinary action (medical license suspension, revocation, and/or limitations)) who are allowed to continue to practice bad medicine (as evidenced by “repeat offenders”)) represent a medical malpractice ticking time bomb that could have and should have been defused before they commit medical malpractice. The health and well-being of patients must be the highest priority — the financial interests of disciplined doctors to continue to treat patients when they have been found to be an “immediate threat to health or safety” of patients should not even be a consideration.
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