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Debate About Doctor Oversight Rages On

Earlier this week we pointed to an Observer story that discussed in detail a case of doctor discipline gone awry. The bad doctor in that case was described in horrific terms by his own colleagues. Yet, even though those who saw him operate on unsuspecting patients went to great lengths to warn others about his poor skills, it took months and months before any official action was taken. In the meantime, at least two patients were killed and several others paralyzed as a result of his malpractice.

Doctor Discipline – Patients Should Come First
This topic has received significant attention over the past few weeks, as various other media outlets have honed in on the consistent problem of lackluster enforcement by state medical boards. A USA Today article–which we also discussed–provided similar examples of chronically negligent doctors who are allowed to see patient after patient. The problem is not limited to a single state or practice area. It is widespread.

Yet, even though no one you ask would suggest that allowing bad doctors to practice is acceptable, there remains significant political disagreement about the way to tackle the problem. While few would make such statements publicly, there are some who believe that protecting the medical profession as a whole is more important than demanding high standards in the interests of patients.

To turn the tide, it is important for all of us who care about minimizing malpractice to engage in the discourse and share information about the real need for disciplinary change.

Patient Safety is Popular
This week, the USA Today ran some of the responses that it received from community members on its high-profile medical discipline story. Some of the responses are encouraging, with many writers explaining what can be done to improve the situation. For example, several pointed out that the loophole which allows doctors who lose their license in one state and move to another should be closed.

Other mentioned that it is critical for doctors to be regulated by non-doctors. There are downsides to self-regulation, with the tendency for those in the same industry to give preference to the interests of the medical professional–not the patient. That is particular true in medicine, when mistakes are not easily fixed and can be a matter of life and death.

The President of the American Association for Justice, Burton LeBlanc, also wrote in to share the AAJ’s perspective on the situation. His letter reminded that the civil justice system acts as a critical check on the industry. Because of the justice system, and consumers’ ability to demand recourse on their own, many big interests–including the healthcare industry–are required to prioritize safety.

He noted that, “If no one is accountable, no one is safe. Any limits on access to accountability through the courts leave every American at risk.”

This is one of many reasons why all limits on the civil justice system should be guarded against. Any time others attempt to paint the justice system in a negative light, it is critical to explain the role that it plays, filling the large gaps where regulatory systems fall short.

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