A recent investigation by several reporters at USA Today uncovered alarming reporting issues that allowed thousands of doctors across the country who had been punished by hospitals and other medical facilities to avoid fines or restrictions by state medical boards. The USA Today article focuses on the tragic cases of several families who lost loved ones when doctors who had already been in trouble were allowed to continue practicing medicine. In one case, Dr. Greggory Phillips was a familiar figure when he appeared before the Texas Medical Board in 2011 on charges that he’d wrongly prescribed the painkillers that killed Jennifer Chaney. The family practitioner already had faced an array of sanctions for mismanaging medications ” and for abusing drugs himself. Over a decade, board members had fined him thousands of dollars, restricted his prescription powers, and placed his medical license on probation with special monitoring of his practice.
They also let him keep practicing medicine. In 2008, a woman in Phillips’ care had died from a toxic mix of pain and psychiatric medications he had prescribed. Eleven months later, Chaney died. Yet it took four more years of investigations and negotiations before the board finally barred Phillips from seeing patients, citing medication errors in those cases and “multiple” others.
The tragedy is that the case of Dr. Phillips is far more common than many people might realize. Despite years of criticism for moving so slowly to punish doctors in the face of evidence of misconduct, medical boards across the country continue to allow doctors to remain on the job, leaving their ability to cause harm intact. The problem isn’t universal. Some state boards have responded to complaints and become more transparent and aggressive in policing bad doctors. But state and federal records still paint a grim picture of a physician oversight system that often is slow to act, quick to excuse problems, and struggling to manage workloads in an era of tight state budgets.
USA Today decided to delve deeper into the issue to find out whether such problems with medical boards was a widespread concern. After reviewing thousands of records from multiple sources the reporters discovered that doctors disciplined and even banned by hospitals are often allowed to keep their licenses clean by state medical boards. Between 2001 and 2011, nearly 6,000 doctors across the country had their privileges restricted or taken away by hospitals for patient misconduct. Among these, 52 percent, or more than 3,000 doctors, were never fined or hit with a license restriction, suspension or revocation by their state board.
The investigation discovered that even severe cases of misconduct could go unpunished. Nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by health care institutions were cited as an “immediate threat to health and safety,” yet their licenses still were not restricted or taken away. About 900 were cited for substandard care, negligence, incompetence or malpractice ” and kept practicing with no licensure action.
Patient advocates are alarmed. David Swankin, head of the Citizen Advocacy Center, which works to make state medical boards more effective, told USA Today, “Medical boards are not like health departments that go out to see if a restaurant is clean; they’re totally reactive, because they rely on these mandatory reports ” and they’re supposed to act on them.”
If you or someone you know have been injured as the result of a medical error and you would like to discuss your case with an attorney, please contact our medical malpractice lawyers at Edwards & Ragatz today at (888) 366-1609 to schedule a free consultation.