Many physicians continue practicing after multiple malpractice cases

Despite multiple malpractice complaints, some physicians continue practicing with few consequences or restrictions on their ability to treat patients.

Recent exposes by CBS News and USA Today show an alarming trend across New Mexico and around the country: many doctors continue to practice following multiple medical malpractice allegations. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of these studies is not that physicians were allowed to continue seeing patients, but that state medical licensing boards (like the New Mexico Medical Board) took little or no punitive measures against them, sometimes even in the face of egregious evidence of negligence, recklessness or incompetence.

Some of the cases involved doctors whose actions or omissions while treating patients resulted in hospitals, clinics, surgical centers and other medical facilities taking away their privileges. Even in the face of that sort of private disciplinary action, however, the majority of physicians still faced no restrictions on their licenses, and oftentimes the loss of privileges was kept confidential and treated as a human resources matter instead of a public safety concern. Unfortunately, keeping things "hush-hush" leaves patients unable to discern a doctor's true safety record and unable to make a truly informed decision about whether that physician can be trusted to provide high-quality medical care.

Is "red tape" a determining factor?

Much of the fault for a lack of consistent punishment of dangerous or negligent physicians comes from the administrative process involved in professional license disciplinary proceedings. Typically, before a medical facility will make a move to suspend a doctor's privileges to practice medicine there, the allegations against the doctor are reviewed by a committee of his or her peers. This can lead to inherent bias, as physicians feel compelled to protect friends or unfairly punish others because of a personal vendetta of sorts.

Should a peer review committee make a recommendation to suspend privileges, hospitals are only required by law to report certain types of physician discipline, usually that which involves a suspension of privileges for more than 30 days or if the doctor was terminated. Many facilities will suspend privileges for less time just so they don't have to report their disciplinary action to the state licensing board, or they will allow a physician to resign instead of being terminated, thus keeping the entire matter private in nature.

Lapses in regulatory guidelines

Even if a physician's privileges have been suspended or terminated by a medical facility (or even several facilities), that doesn't meant that he or she will automatically face license censure, suspension or revocation. The regulatory authority given to state licensing boards is full of loopholes, and the physician is afforded the right to due process and the benefit of a high burden of proof of wrongdoing before any action can be taken. In addition, regulatory proceedings can take months or even years to conclude, during which time the physician is most often allowed to practice with no restrictions.

Unfortunately, it isn't likely that changes will be coming to the disciplinary scheme for doctors any time soon. The medical industry has deep pockets and myriad lobbyists to vocally oppose legislative changes that would make the disciplinary process more transparent or give licensing boards more autonomy when deciding upon punitive measures. At present, the most effective way to ensure that a negligent or reckless physician is held accountable for the injury or death of a patient is by filing a medical malpractice suit. If you or a loved one has questions about what a med mal case entails - or you have been injured and need more information about filing a claim - speak with an experienced personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Salazar, Sullivan & Jasionowski today.

Keywords: medical malpractice, med mal, surgical error, physician discipline, licensing board