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Why a surgeon can continue committing medical malpractice

In our previous post we discussed the case of one surgeon who moved to another state after allegedly killing two patients through surgical errors. The surgeon was able to relocate with a clean record despite medical board disciplinary action and continues to operate on patients unsupervised.

A professor at Boston University who teaches health law and bioethics said that most states do not perform thorough background checks when a physician renews a medical license. Often understaffed medical boards fail to communicate effectively with other states' boards and many medical boards fail to accept responsibility for dangerous physicians who move into their states. Therefore the surgeon's case is not unusual.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Medical Board said that the board does have a policy of adopting sanctions imposed on physicians by another state but that she does not know why this did not happen in the case of the Duluth surgeon who moved to Texas.

"It's actually possible that the board doesn't know about all the medical malpractice cases in another state," she said.

The spokeswoman said that it is the doctor's responsibility to disclose his or her history of malpractice. Texas has access to a national data bank of malpractice lawsuits and medical board disciplinary records but the Texas Board does not use the data bank for every doctor because queries would cost the state approximately $160,000 every year. Therefore many dangerous doctors go undetected.

"If the doctor doesn't want to tell us and is not truthful when he renews his license, then we're not going to find out about it, either," the medical board spokeswoman said.

Source: Duluth News Tribune, "In Texas, former Duluth surgeon may be sanction-free," Brandon Stahl and Mark Stodghill, 5/31/11

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