Medical Malpractice Rarely Leads to Disciplinary Action

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2011 | Medical Malpractice

A doctor that commits Medical Malpractice may lose his hospital privileges or have said privileges restricted. However, according to a new report released Tuesday, the state medical boards responsible for disciplining those doctors failed to punish more than 50 percent of those whose hospitals revoked or restricted their privileges. Of course, in Florida, the proportion was higher than the national average. The study, conducted by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, found that 63 percent of the doctors whose hospital privileges were restricted or revoked were not even disciplined by the state’s Board of Medicine.

As reported in the Orlando Sentinel, 32 states let more than half of the offending doctors go without any reprimand.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, an internist and director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and overseer of the study said, “Either state medical boards are receiving this disturbing information from hospitals but not acting upon it or, much less likely, they are not receiving the information at all. Something is broken and needs to be fixed.”

At the Florida Department of Health — which oversees the state’s Board of Medicine — a spokeswoman said they were still reviewing the Public Citizen report. The Sentinel tried to contact several members of the board for comment, but got no answer or no response.

Of the 10,672 U.S. physicians who faced hospital sanctions, 55 percent escaped any licensing action or discipline from their state medical board.

“In 20 years, only 10,000 doctors have ever been disciplined — which is an indictment of hospitals,” Wolfe said. “But once hospitals take action, it’s pretty serious. Of those, 5,800 were thrown off the staff of the hospital.”

Yet in many cases, Wolfe said, the state medical board did not discipline the doctor any further. And many of those doctors are still practicing medicine, he added.

“It’s a real indictment of medical boards,” Wolfe said, because these cases are the most egregious and already have been investigated by the hospital. “It’s like handing you a case on a silver platter. The investigation has been done.”

Malpractice insurance carriers are required to report all settlements against physicians, dentists and other licensed health-care providers. The information is available to state licensing boards; hospitals and other health care organizations; professional societies; some federal agencies; and Florida Medical Malpractice attorneys.

In Florida, the governor’s office selects the 15 volunteer members of the Board of Medicine. In addition to 12 doctors, the board includes three consumer members.

Patient advocates say the report is troubling.

Wolfe’s staff found that one Florida doctor had hospital privileges permanently revoked in 2002 for incompetence and racked up 10 medical malpractice reports totaling $1 million between 1992 and 2009. Those mistakes included performing an unnecessary procedure, leaving a foreign object in a patient and misdiagnosis. Two patients died, but Wolfe and his staff say that the state of Florida took no disciplinary action against the doctor.

Wolfe said he can’t name the doctor because the database doesn’t provide the public with access to physicians’ names.

Other highlights from the report are:

•Of the 5,887 physicians who the state medical boards failed to discipline — many of whom also had a history of medical malpractice payments — 1,119 were disciplined for incompetence, negligence or malpractice; 605 were disciplined for substandard care; and 220 were identified as an immediate threat to health or safety.

•Other categories of serious deviations of physician behavior and/or performance that resulted in the loss of hospital privileges included sexual misconduct; inability to practice safely; fraud including insurance fraud, fraud obtaining a license and fraud against health care programs; and narcotics violations. A total of 2,071 physicians were disciplined by their hospital employers for one or more of these violations.

•3,218 physicians in the study lost their clinical privileges permanently, and an additional 389 physicians lost privileges for more than one year.

As a Miami Medical Malpractice Lawyer I am constantly battling against doctors that caused serious injuries and/or death to their patients. However, every year this becomes more and more difficult. Every year Floridians are led to believe that the state is facing a Medical Malpractice crisis, and that more reforms are necessary. What these reforms purport to do is limit victims rights. The last Medical Malpractice reform led to caps that limit recoveries for pain and suffering damages. ($1.5 million against hospitals and $1 million as against all doctors). This year the republican led house and senate is again sponsoring a number of bills to further restrict patients rights.

Instead of always looking to restrict patient’s rights, wouldn’t we all be better served if repeat offending doctors were disciplined by the state? This would certainly help to lower the insurance rates for the non-offending doctors, and would likewise reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits-which we are led to believe is a crisis. Maybe the real crisis is not in the number of lawsuits, but rather in the number of doctors that commit Medical Malpractice and are not disciplined.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.