When it comes to protecting the public health and safety, even SCOTUS has said that civil lawsuits are just as important as strong regulation and enforcement. We'd say perhaps even more important. That's because deregulation and lax regulatory enforcement seems to have become a national goal, for many reasons not the least of which are insane budget cuts. Guess where things have gotten really bad lately? Regulating unsafe, incompetent doctors. (Not what you thought I was going to say, right?)
We recently covered the story of one Texas doctor, Christopher Duntsch who, “came to Dallas to start a neurosurgery practice [and] by the time the Texas Medical Board revoked his license in June 2013, Duntsch had left two patients dead and four paralyzed in a series of botched surgeries.” Wrote the Texas Observer,
His mistakes were obvious and well-documented. And still it took the Texas Medical Board more than a year to stop Duntsch—a year in which he kept bringing into the operating room patients who ended up seriously injured or dead.
In Duntsch’s case, we see the weakness of Texas’ unregulated system of health care, a system built to protect doctors and hospitals. And a system in which there’s no way to know for sure if your doctor is dangerous.
Other states aren't much better. Here's a California case we have covered. Here's Nevada. Wisconsin. In New York, Dr. Spyros Panos just surrendered his medical license after years of botching, faking and doing unnecessary surgeries. The state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct did nothing for quite a long time. And goodness knows how many others like Dr. Panos are out there. Notes ABC News:
"It is a rare occurrence for the OPMC to put this type of pressure on a physician and for the physician to lose his license," said J.T. Wisell, an attorney for 154 of the more than 250 plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits accusing Panos of performing botched or unnecessary surgeries, or pretending to perform surgeries that never actually took place.
The Federation of State Medical Boards, which represents 70 state medical boards, reported that of the three quarter of a million practicing physicians in the United States, only 1,905 of them lost their licenses to practice medicine in 2011. Of the more than 88,000 physicians who practiced in New York State that same year, just 185 -- less than one percent -- lost their licenses. …
Wisell also noted that Panos still has a license to practice medicine in Virginia. While he is legally obligated to keep the Virginia state medical board up to date about the legal consequences in New York, Wisell said it could take some time before any action was taken and there is no federal mandate that stops Panos from practicing medicine in other states.
No mandate. But at least there’s a way for hospitals outside of New York to find out about doctors like this - and hopefully not hire them - thanks to the National Practitioner Data Bank. As we have noted before, the NPDB is “a federal repository of medical-malpractice judgments and out-of-court settlements.” It’s an absolutely critical institution – the main way hospitals can avoid hiring butchers.
But now there’s a new trend: bad doctors not only avoiding state medical board regulation but also stopping the NPDB from learning about their malpractice record! In fact, a new Oregon law does just that. Writes The Oregonian:
I bet Drs. Duntsch and Panos thinks that’s just swell. Good luck Oregon.
On Tuesday Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader, said the new law hurts public safety by making it easier for bad doctors to escape their past. Though malpractice cases are often settled out of court, they must be reported to a national database so clinics, states, and hospitals can review the records of new hires from out of state. The Oregon law, set to kick in in 2014, would put a stop to that for cases that are mediated.
"Physicians do move around, particularly physicians who get into trouble," said Dr. Michael Carome, head of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. Under the new law, "they're not going to be adequately screened," he added -- particularly if other states follow Oregon's lead.
Carome wrote U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calling for her to require mediation payouts be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank, just as malpractice settlements currently are.
An earlier version of the bill had made reporting of medical errors mandatory. However, doctor opposition led [Governor] Kitzhaber to weaken the provision to get it passed.