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Has Your Doctor Been Disciplined? Here's How to Find Out

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By    |   Tuesday, 21 June 2016 03:37 PM

Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., taking more than 250,000 lives a year, in part because of physician mistakes, Johns Hopkins University researchers estimate. But finding out if your doctor has been disciplined isn’t easy, a new report finds.

But the analysis, by Consumer Reports, identifies a handful of techniques for discovering whether your doctor has been disciplined for “making careless, sometimes deadly, mistakes,” poor treatment of patients, sexual misconduct, drug addiction, or other offenses.

According to the CR report, thousands of practicing doctors in the United States are on probation for such offenses. A survey by the nonprofit group found that 82 percent of respondents said doctors should have to tell patients if they're on probation and why, and two-thirds support banning doctors from practicing medicine until their probation ends.

But the American Medical Association and state medical boards have thwarted attempts to make it easier for patients to learn about doctors' transgressions, the magazine’s editors say.

"The onus shouldn't be on patients to investigate their physicians," said Lisa McGiffert, director of the group's Safe Patient Project, in a news release. "Doctors on probation should be required to tell their patients about their status, and explain the reasons behind it."

She noted the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which collects details about doctors' malpractice payouts and disciplinary records, is not open to the public. Access is restricted to hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, law enforcement, and other select groups.

"You can find out more about the safety record of your toaster and whether or not it's going to catch on fire than you can find about your physicians," said patient-safety advocate Robert Oshel, the former associate director for research and disputes at the NPDB.

He noted multiple, large malpractice settlements against a doctor "can be a warning sign ... suggesting that if licensing boards and hospital peer reviewers were willing to either get these doctors to stop practicing or get retraining, we'd all be better off."

But because the NPDB data is private, consumers must rely on state medical boards for information. But boards vary widely in terms of the information they provide online and in other ways, in part because there are no uniform federal regulations.

Many of those boards have complicated websites, or require patients to go through difficult processes to get information about doctors. That allows doctors who have been disciplined in one state to move to another to practice -- where it may be harder for patients to discover problems.

Among the key findings of the CR analysis:
  • About 2 percent of doctors nationwide were responsible for half of the $85 billion in malpractice payouts made since the federal government began gathering malpractice data.
  • Medical board Websites in California, Massachusetts, and New York are the best, in terms of providing useful, accessible information about disciplined doctors.
  • Medical boards in Hawaii, Indiana, and Mississippi fared the worst in providing online information about questionable physician practices.
"The system of disciplining physicians needs to be more transparent, reliable and accessible for patients," McGiffert said. "Consumers need quick and easy access to this information to make educated choices about the physicians they see and the health of themselves and their families."

In the meantime, what can you do to be sure your doctor is trustworthy? First, check your state’s Board of Medicine Website for licensing, training, and practice records to see what is available.

In addition, experts at the Peterson Center on HealthCare at Stanford University say consumers should look for the following characteristics of doctor practices that tend to be among the best:

Time spent with patients. Doctors who make time for patients before rushing to order tests or prescribe meds are less likely to make medical errors or mistakes.

Good communication. This ensures quick response to patients' needs via phone, email, or repeat visits. It also reduces the odds of making a bad medical decision about your care or treatment.

Extended hours. This allows more flexibility for patients and suggest doctors make their regulars’ needs and health a priority.

Openness to criticism. When patient complaints are taken seriously it indicates a physician is conscientious.

One-stop shopping.
Practices offer a myriad of minor procedures in-house, instead of referring patients elsewhere, have a better handle on overall patient health.

Referral to specialists.
Doctors who can refer you to a good specialist are often in touch with others healthcare providers who share the same values and philosophies.

Teamwork. The practice may include nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nutritionists and social workers.

Patient-centered care. Doctors who make clear they aren’t motivated by the pay they receive per number of patients they see, but by the quality of care they provide. U.S. medical organizations certify doctors who meet specific standards for two new models of care – known as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and patient-centered medical homes (PCMH) – who embrace this type of practice.

If you believe you have been harmed by a doctor, experts recommend taking the following actions:
  • Consider contacting the police and a lawyer. To file criminal charges — for, say, sexual or physical abuse — first contact the police. For a malpractice lawsuit, a lawyer will likely need to be convinced of a strong case with the potential of a payout.
  • Contact your state medical board. That’s the agency that licenses and disciplines physicians. (To find your state’s board, go to ConsumersUnion.org/safepatientproject.)
  • Keep good records. Send a hard copy of your complaint, along with copies of your medical records and other supporting documents, to the board. Be patient: The state board must first determine if your complaint warrants investigation and that can take several months or even longer.
The new report, “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You,” can be found online on the CR Website

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Doctor mistakes are one reason medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., taking more than 250,000 Americans lives each year. But how do you know if your physician has been disciplined or is on probation? It's not easy to find out, but there are ways to check a doc's record.
doctor, disciplined, malpractice, medical, error, bad, doc
Tuesday, 21 June 2016 03:37 PM
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