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Investigation reveals physicians who commit egregious conduct still practice

Anesthesiologist Richard Kaul, MD, gained widespread media attention a few years ago when the New Jersey Attorney General not only found evidence that he was performing spine surgeries without authorization or proper training, but determined that he was linked to an anesthesia death of a patient while practicing in the United Kingdom.

A doctor practicing in the state of Texas had multiple sanctions on his personnel file and also gained recent media awareness when his negligence in prescribing the wrong pain medication lead to the death of a Texas woman in 2008.

According to data analyzed by USA TODAY, these types of occurrences are all too common. The most disturbing revelation is that many of these negligent doctors are still allowed to practice medicine today.

The USA TODAY investigation concluded that many state medical boards are simply too lax on bad physician behavior, continue to allow doctors who commit egregious medical errors to practice medicine and endanger the lives of patients.

The USA TODAY investigation

In making this assessment, the newspaper examined public records from several sources including data from health maintenance organizations and information from the National Practitioner Data Bank-a federal database that contains doctor licensing, malpractice and disciplinary information.

Out of the information, the USA TODAY found astonishing patterns:

Zero state medical board action on physicians with multiple sanctions

During the 10 year period of 2001-2011, the data showed that out of the roughly 6,000 physicians who committed malpractice in severity that they were given restricted duty or loss of responsibility, about 52 percent were never fined, had their licenses suspended or revoked.

Essentially, the state medical boards where these physicians practice took zero action.

Zero state medical board action on physicians who committed severe misconduct

The investigation revealed that there were roughly 900 doctors who committed serious negligent conduct. The data also revealed that there were 250 doctors that committed malpractice constituted as an "immediate threat to health and safety" of patients.

However, out of these approximate 1150 doctors, none of the medical licenses of any of these physicians were restricted or revoked.

Zero state medical board action on physicians with huge med mal payouts

The data also showed that doctors averaging 5.2 million in medical malpractice payouts during 2001-2011 faced zero action by their state medical boards as well.

Reasons behind the statistics

The data points to several reasons behind these numbers.

Investigators conclude that the disciplinary system isn't very efficient and medical boards are seemingly slow to act. In addition, many state budgets face deficits which lead to a backlog of workloads in reviewing cases and assessing any disciplinary action. Essentially, there's simply not enough oversight.

Another study conducted by Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog association, came to the same conclusion after analyzing the same data as USA TODAY. Medical boards "are not properly acting on (clinical privilege) reports after becoming aware of them."

Dire need for accountability

It's evident that from studies such as theses, more is needed to keep tabs on doctors and protect patients from physicians who shouldn't be practicing medicine.

Those involved in the investigation do point out that, in some instances, not all doctors should lose their licenses over just one med mal settlement. Different factors could play a part and some simply settle to avoid costly litigation.

However, those with egregious conduct or multiple sanctions should not be allowed to practice. Fortunately, legal recourse remains a viable option for those harmed by doctors who commit medical errors.

Currently, there are over 878,000 doctors with active licenses in the United States.

"The mission of Britcher Leone, LLC is to unite the professional disciplines of medicine and law to help the victims of physicians' malpractice and serious personal injury restore their future and the future of their families."
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