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Thursday, August 25, 2011

California medical board fails to discipline 710 troubled doctors

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

California's medical board failed to discipline 710 troubled doctors even as they were disciplined by hospitals, surgical centers and other healthcare organizations in the state, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Citizen was based on an analysis of doctors' records in the National Practitioner Data Bank from 1990 to 2009. The Department of Health & Human Services uses the data bank to track doctors' discipline, medical malpractice payments and other actions. The data released to Public Citizen did not name the doctors or their workplaces.

Of the doctors who escaped state discipline in California, 35% had racked up more than one disciplinary action from another entity, according to the report.

"If the hospital or HMO has taken action, why hasn't the board?" asked Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group. "That's something that as a physician or a patient I would be worried about. Hospitals rarely discipline doctors. When they do, it's usually for very serious infractions."

Jennifer Simoes, a Medical Board spokeswoman, said officials have reviewed the report but more analysis is needed.

"We believe more data needs to be obtained, but like many state agencies, we have a 20% vacancy rate and we're trying to focus on our core functions," she said, noting that board officials had been contacted by Public Citizen about investigating the report's findings. "We told them we would do it when we had the resources." She said a state hiring freeze contributed to other deficiencies noted in the report.

At least 102 of the doctors who escaped discipline in California had their privileges to practice at a given facility suspended, limited or revoked after peer reviews, according to the report.

The entire story can be read here.