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Biggest Findings From Newspaper Investigation into Doctor Misconduct

Over the past year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in conjunction with USA Today and MedPage  has been performing an investigation into the United State’s medical licensing system and doctor misconduct. The investigation has uncovered a series of failures in the licensing system, which has allowed hundreds of doctors are practicing with clean records in some states when they have documented disciplinary actions in other states. Because of the disjointed system, patients can be left unaware of the problems with the doctor and can potentially become victims to the problem themselves.

Some of the biggest findings from the investigation include:

  1. Doctors can avoid a problem record in one state by beginning to practice in another state.
    • Doctors often are licensed in more than one state. After facing disciplinary action in one state, they can begin practicing in another with a clean record. The investigation uncovered over 500 physicians doing just that.
  2. Some doctors who face disciplinary action voluntarily surrender their license in one state, and then begin to practice in another.
    • Surrendering a license usually does not include restrictions about practicing in another state. States are responsible for checking doctors’s records, but it seems as if they have not been doing a great job of it. The investigation found over 250 doctors with surrender licenses in one state practicing in another.
  3. Even after facing disciplinary action, some doctors are still treating patients on Medicare.
    • The investigation uncovered 216 doctors who had faced disciplinary action that were still able to bill Medicare for treating elderly patients.
  4. Even though there is a tool to help states track disciplinary actions against doctors, very few states use it.
    • The federal government has set up a database which tracks medical malpractice payments and discipline actions against the doctors. The database gets over 7 million searches a year, but less than 150,000 come from state medical boards.

State medical boards are not doing enough to ensure the safety of patients across the country. Unfortunately, because of this disjointed system, doctor misconduct is being allowed to slip through the cracks, and doctors with disciplinary action in one state are treating patients in other states.


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