Statement from Public Citizen on Patient Safety in the Medical Industry

1. What is being done right now to hold doctors and hospitals responsible for medical negligence towards a patient?

A variety of tools are available to hold doctors and hospitals responsible for medical negligence, but not enough is being done to protect patients by state medical boards and medical institutions that employ doctors. Too many patients are being victimized by dangerous practitioners. Right now, patients can file complaints with state medical boards (although the quality of oversight varies from state to state) or take them to court (often is difficult and costly).

States and medical institutions must address malpractice where it starts: with problem doctors. Our research has shown that a small percentage of doctors are responsible for a large percentage of malpractice. Key steps: 1) State medical boards and employers should ensure that dangerous doctors aren’t in a position to harm patients by taking away their medical licenses or imposing other sanctions. 2) Information in the National Practitioner Data Bank – which houses detailed information about doctor misconduct but which keeps the information hidden – should be open to the public; and 3) There should be better communication and coordination between states, medical boards, and employers, when doctors move from state to state, to ensure that problem doctors can’t just move, hang their shingle elsewhere and continue to practice.

2. What can patients do to protect themselves against ‘bad doctors’?

Patients can check out their doctors by going to the website of their state medical board and entering the doctor’s name. Most medical board websites have a way to find out whether the doctor has been sanctioned for misconduct and, for some states, whether the doctor has been convicted of a felony or had malpractice payouts. Additionally, the sites may provide background information about the doctor, including other states where he or she worked. If your doctor worked in another state, check out that state’s medical board website as well.

3. What steps is your organization, Public Citizen, engaged in that will help either educate or reform current laws on patient safety in the medical industry?

Public Citizen continues to highlight flaws in the system and call for reforms. For instance, we sued to close a loophole that allows physicians and other healthcare providers to avoid having medical malpractice payments that are made on their behalf reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank. The loophole deprives hospitals and state licensing boards of vital information needed to protect patient health and safety. We have done research showing that state medical boards are failing to protect the public from many doctors already known to have committed sexual misconduct. We also have called out the federal government for breaking its own policy requiring all malpractice payments to be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.

Recommendations provided by Dr. Michael Carome, Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

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