Transparency and accountability are buzzwords when it comes to improving patient safety and limiting medical malpractice. The idea is that if hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are held accountable for their mistakes–and if those past problems are made available to the public—then patients will make decisions based on the quality of services they are likely to receive. Essentially the economic laws of competition will apply to improve care.
But for all the talk about the need for more accountability and transparency in the caregiving process, we still have a long way to go, including here in Illinois.
“Operating in the Dark”
For example, ABC Local reported this week on one big loophole that may allow medical professionals with a history of negligent care to work in Illinois–patients rarely know that their professional may have made serious mistakes in the past. This may be true even under changes in our state–including the creation of an accountability website–that are supposed to increase patient knowledge about their caregivers.
The story reports on one doctor whose license was suspended in another state before he moved to Illinois and began treating patients here. Unfortunately, his history of bad care did not end once he came to the Chicago area. According to the story, in the 23 years he worked at a hospital in Park Ridge as a neurosurgeon, he was sued for medical malpractice at least 14 times.
Some of the doctor’s problems related to ordered care that wasn’t actually necessary For example, one family’s infant visited the doctor after falling off their porch. The injury from the fall healed on its own, but the doctor claimed that the child needed surgery for an unrelated growth problem. The family sought a second and third opinion, both of which claimed that the child did not need the surgery. Fortunately, the family was able to avoid an expensive, risky, and unnecessary operation. Other families were not so lucky. One report claims that the doctor improperly removed a disk in a patient’s back–leaving him paralyzed.
Following these cases the doctor moved from Illinois to Florida. Once there, however, things didn’t go well. He was hit with another six malpractice suits, including claims of unnecessarily drilling into a patient skull and operating on the wrong side of another patient’s head. Eventually he lost his license to practice in that state–and he moved back to Illinois.
Perhaps the most frightening part of all of this is that for months if you go on the Illinois website dedicated to providing information about doctors in the state, you would not find information about any of this. The lack of information on the site seemed to indicate a problem with the data on the site. That is because several of the most recent lawsuits were filed and settled within the last five years–which means that they should been listed for potential patients of the doctor to see.
Fortunately, the website was changed last week to indicate that the doctor was currently suspended. However, this situation raises red flags about the extent and accuracy of the information on the website. Much of the information is provided by doctors themselves, and the state likely lacks the resources to fully investigate the accuracy of all of the information on the site.
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