Firm-Wide blog

Investigation: Thousands of banned doctors keep practicing

By Burg Simpson
August 30, 2013
3 min read

Despite being banned by hospitals or other medical facilities for medical malpractice – in some cases for errors leading to patient deaths – thousands of doctors are not punished by state medical boards that license doctors and keep practicing medicine, according to a recent investigation by USA Today.

For the investigation, reporters looked at data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a federal repository that helps medical boards track physicians’ license records, malpractice payments and disciplinary actions imposed by medical facilities, HMOs, and other facilities that manage doctors. All reports must be filed in the system when any doctor faces “adverse actions,” the newspaper reported – and there are about 878,000 licensed doctors in the country.

The investigation found that nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by healthcare facilities posed an “immediate threat to health and safety,” but they still held their licenses. About 900 had been cited for substandard care, incompetence, negligence or malpractice, but they kept practicing medicine with no impact to their license, USA Today reported.

States need to crack down
Records also showed that even doctors with the worst records were still treating patients. Out of the nearly 100,000 doctors who had made payments to resolve medical malpractice claims from 2001 to 2011, about 800 were responsible for about 10 percent of the dollars paid, equaling about $5.2 million per doctor. However, fewer than one in five experienced any effect on their license by their state medical board.

“The states vary all over the lot in terms of the resources the boards have, whether they have good leadership, and whether they are regularly querying the (Data Bank),” Sidney Wolfe, a physician and founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, said to USA Today. “Some states do a pretty good job; a lot of them don’t.”

The report raises concern for a number of experts, because state medical boards have a number of options when they are faced with reports of claims against doctors. They could be forced to get training, may have to have their practice monitored, or have their license suspended or revoked.

“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,” David Swankin, head of the Citizen Advocacy Center, which acts to make state boards more effective, told USA Today.

Suspended Ohio doctor accused of malpractice
A number of women are accusing a doctor at a pain management clinic in Stow, Ohio, of sexual assault, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Eight former patients – ranging from “child-bearing age to elderly” filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. James Bressi and his clinic in May in Summit County. The claims go back to at least 2011.

Stow Police and Summit County prosecutors have been investigating Bressi since earlier this year for possible criminal charges, but no indictment has been announced yet, the Beacon Journal reported. However, he still began to practice despite “clear and convincing evidence that his continued practice presents a danger of immediate and serious harm to the public,” the State Medical Board of Ohio said. The board suspended Bressi’s license last week.

Ten more women are apparently going to join in on the lawsuit. The women say Bressi “deviated from the standard of care” by engaging in “non-consensual touching.” At one point, the practice reportedly required a female chaperone to be present during appointments with women due to complaints of “inappropriate conduct.”

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