Vital Signs Blog

USA Today report finds lack of punishment for restricted docs

An investigative report in Wednesday's USA Today on physician discipline illustrates why some observers are concerned about the Federation of State Medical Boards' recent decision to stop publishing its annual report on the number of disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards.

The USA Today article found that 52% of the nearly 6,000 physicians who had their clinical privileges restricted or revoked by hospitals or other institutions for misconduct involving patient care from 2001 to 2011 never received fines, license restrictions or license suspensions or revocations by a state medical board. Nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by institutions faced no licensure action despite being cited by their institution as an immediate threat to health and safety.

The article focused on one Texas family practice physician who was allowed by the Texas Medical Board to keep practicing despite receiving thousands of dollars in fines, restrictions on prescribing and having his license placed on probation. During that time, two women patients died under his care from an overdose of drugs he prescribed. After one patient's death in late 2008, the patient's mother asked the board to suspend the physician's license on an emergency basis. The board finally ordered sanctions in 2011, more than two years after one patient's death and more than three years after the other's death. Earlier this year, after finding the physician had continued to mishandle prescriptions, the board finally barred him from working with patients but allowed him to work in administrative medicine.

A board official told USA Today that it reached that agreement with the doctor to get him out of practice, because revoking his license might have taken years.

Since 1999, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has published an annual report ranking state medical boards in terms of the number of disciplinary actions taken, based on the Federation of State Medical Board's annual report. Now Public Citizen says it will try to rank the boards without the federation's data. Public Citizen's supporters say the ranking report provides a valuable tool that has prompted state legislatures to take action and increase the resources available to low-ranking medical boards so they can do a better job.

Last year, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)and other senators asked the HHS Office of the Inspector General for a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of state medical boards. There's been no report so far and no mention of it in the OIG's 2013 work plan.

Follow Harris Meyer on Twitter: @MHHmeyer


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