It is no secret that our country is well known for its powerful and practical system of checks and balances. This system ensures that proper oversight is consistently implemented in an effort to decrease mistakes and improper behavior and extends to the medical community as well. Illinois, like every state, maintains its own medical board which oversees and regulates each physician licensed in that state. When a licensed physician is reported for misconduct or malpractice, it is up to that state’s medical board – as part of their system – to ensure that the physician is penalized and prevented from any future wrongdoing.
But what happens when this system fails us?
USAToday.com recently released a harrowing editorial detailing a significant issue our malpractice attorneys are all too familiar with – medical professionals who maintain their professional license despite continuous misconduct. Even though these doctors are often disciplined by means of being banned from certain medical facilities, their medical license remains fully intact – further allowing them to move their practice elsewhere and ultimately onto unsuspecting patients.
In order to offset this epidemic, the National Practitioner Data Bank – a public repository which maintains a track record of licensed physicians’ malpractice payments and disciplinary actions – was implemented as a medical board watchdog. The law requires that hospitals and other health care institutions report to the National Practitioner Data Bank any time a licensed medical professional loses clinical privileges due to investigations involving substandard care and/or misconduct. Additionally, insurance providers must report to the data bank any time a payment is made in a malpractice case.
However, despite the “public” nature of the National Practitioner Data Bank, their repositories remain relatively secret to the public. Only medical boards and facilities are permitted full access to the repository – physician’s identifying information is not available for public view.
More often than not, when a physician is reported for misconduct – the remedial options issued by that physician’s state can vary substantially. For instance, a state’s medical board may suggest additional training for that physician, monitor them more closely, or ultimately suspend or revoke their license.
Additional statistics reported in the article sheds further light on just how troublesome this epidemic has become:
• From 2001 through 2011, roughly 6,000 licensed had their clinical privileges restricted or revoked due to misconduct involving patient care. Although, what is more shocking is that 52% (or 3,000) of these physicians were never fined or subjected to a license restriction, suspension or revocation by a state medical board.
• Roughly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by health care institutions were cited as an “immediate threat to health and safety” yet their licenses were not restricted or taken away.
• In the beginning of 2011 – 47% of medical facilities never reported restricting or revoking a doctor’s clinical privileges – instead permitting these physicians a chance to resign before investigations are launched
In light of these findings, it is important for victims to realize that if and when you or a loved one have suffered harm at the hands of a negligent physician, you may be able to hold them accountable through legal action. Medical malpractice lawsuits not only compensate victims for the harms caused by inadequate care, they also draw public attention to medical misconduct even when state disciplinary boards do not make this information know. If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice due to actions or misconduct of a negligent physician, please contact our lawyers to see what legal rights and remedial options may be available to you.