The South Dakota Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners, which licenses doctors, will look for a new administrator and plans to move to its own office.
The current administrator, Paul Jensen, also serves in a similar role for the South Dakota State Medical Association, which lobbies for doctors. Both entities have offices in the same building in Sioux Falls, S.D., and share staff members and other resources.
Other states say they have separated such groups to avoid the conflict of having the same people who police physicians also lobby for them.
In South Dakota, critics have said the setup has allowed doctors to hide from public scrutiny and protect their own when mistakes happen.
The medical board "is very soon going to be advertising to hire somebody else," Jensen said Wednesday. He plans to remain during the transition, adding that the two groups will separate "as soon as that person can be hired, can come on board and become experienced and knowledgeable."
Jensen plans to remain as chief executive of the South Dakota Medical Association.
The executive for the Board of Medical and Osteopathic Examiners works with six board members.
"We're working on it very energetically," board President Robert Ferrell, M.D., of Rapid City, said of the search. The changes will be made early in 2005, he said.
An investigation by the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls found that the medical board rarely disciplined doctors and went to great lengths to keep most information about its actions private.
Other small states, including North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska, discipline doctors three times as often as South Dakota. Most states publish information about those actions.
Before the investigation, the board refused to provide a list of disciplined doctors to Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocate, making South Dakota the only state that did not cooperate.
Gov. Mike Rounds then proposed changes, including separating the board from the medical association.
"It's really in the interest of consumers, in the interest of the public, that this happened," Mark Johnston, Rounds' press secretary, said Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Ferrell and other board members said big changes were not needed because South Dakota's small size made it easy to monitor doctors and that the state's strict licensing requirements weeded out problem physicians.
On Wednesday, Ferrell said, "We're enthused about the changes we're making. But change, as you know, can be a little scary sometimes. When you change a system, you can't predict for sure how it will all turn out. But nothing stays the same forever."
Dozens of patients told the newspaper they had complained to the board but that their complaints were dismissed with no sign of an investigation.
In response to Rounds, the board has started posting its disciplinary actions online and is using investigators independent of the medical industry. Before, board members often conducted investigations with no outside input.