Medical Malpractice, Sex With Patients and Misconduct: What to Know About Your Doctor
Some New York doctors accused of unprofessional conduct in other states are practicing without a blemish on their records, exposing patients to harm.
That’s one of the many findings of a USA TODAY Network investigation of more than 250 doctors across the country who surrendered their licenses in one state to protect their reputations and relocate to another state.
The probe comes after The Journal News/lohud exposed flaws in state physician records in New York, as well as concerns about regulators showing clemency to doctors to ensure they keep practicing medicine.
What follows are tips for patients who want to learn more about their doctors, along with details of the systemic failures in New York and across the country.
Find out about your doctor
There are often limited records available to the public about accusations, investigations and even discipline of doctors, USA TODAY Network reported.
But there are a few things patients can do to look into about their doctors:
Start with the medical board in your state. Most boards have websites where the records of doctors can be checked. New York’s, through the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, is here.
New York also has physician profile database that allows doctors to submit details about their medical practice. But lax maintenance of the data on the site, nydoctorprofile.com, was detailed in a Journal News/lohud investigation, “Risk under the knife: Lohud surgeons rated; public records flawed.”
Further, if you know your doctor has practiced in another state, or holds a license in another state, check the website of that medical board as well.
Culture of forgiveness
Some doctors have pleaded guilty to felonies but retained their medical licenses, The Journal News/lohud reported.
By contrast, many states, including New York, prohibit felons from holding licenses to sell real estate and liquor. State laws also bar felons from certain jobs, such as private investigators and insurance brokers.
Medical licensing boards, however, determine if doctors committing crimes will face professional penalties.
The process has been criticized by prosecutors and good-government groups for failing to sufficiently punish doctors. Depending on the crime, disciplinary actions have ranged from requiring training and community service to suspending and revoking licenses.
Malpractice, state laws and money
Differences in state laws and gaps in health care data made publicly available under federal laws are critical problems facing efforts to improve oversight of doctors, according to federal health officials.
Varying state laws, for example, affect the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. Much of the debate focuses on the effect of capping payouts to patients.
New York, which doesn’t have a cap, has far more medical malpractice payments than California or Florida, where caps of $250,000 and $1 million have been in place.
There have also been declines during the past 20 years in the number of serious disciplinary actions taken against doctors. In New York, license revocations and suspension dropped to 121 in 2013, after peaking at 184 in 1996, state data shows.
Search Medicare exclusions
Another tool for learning about doctors’ history involves Medicare, the federal health program for millions of elderly and disabled Americans.
Some of the backstories include prescription pill mills fueling the drug crisis, workers abusing nursing home patients and massive frauds swindling millions of dollars from taxpayers.
These are also the tales behind the 230 Medicare exclusions involving medical professionals in Westchester and Rockland counties.
The improper behavior resulted in some form of ban from Medicare, but many didn’t prompt licensing boards to revoke medical licenses, an ongoing investigation by The Journal News/lohud found.
Nationally there are 70,000 Medicare exclusion cases, including about 4,000 in New York.
By David Robinson [LoHud]