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State medical boards sometimes lack oversight

South Carolina medical patients should know that doctors who act unprofessionally may not be penalized. Between 2001 and 2011, almost 6,000 physicians were placed on restriction at medical facilities for incidents related to patient well-being. However, more than 3,000 of those individuals received no sanctions against their license and were not even fined, despite having their clinical privileges revoked. Of these individuals, 234 of them were deemed to be an immediate threat to patients.

Experts who are concerned about patient safety are looking for ways to make state medical boards more consistent. Disciplinary actions vary among states, and the Citizen Advocacy Center wants to ensure that doctors are held accountable for their actions. The head of the agency said that the medical boards need to respond whenever a complaint is filed.

Even when the physician or insurance company settles a claim, the doctor shouldn't necessarily lose their license. A board can pursue a number of choices when a doctor's actions come to their attention. Sanctions can range from additional training to monitoring to prescription restrictions or even license revocation. An administrator with the Federation of State Medical Boards reported that the boards take their responsibility to protect the public seriously.

As far back as 1986, the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the boards weren't imposing strict enough sanctions for doctor misconduct or medical malpractice. One senator said in 2012 that the boards need effective oversight in order to keep patients safe. He, along with other senators, requested a summary of the state medical boards' actions.

When someone is the victim of a medical error, they might not know who to contact. A personal injury attorney might be able to help clients hold the responsible parties accountable. The attorney could file a claim to pursue compensation for any additional expenses related to medical errors.

Source: USA Today, "Thousands of doctors practicing despite errors, misconduct", Peter Eisler and Barbara Hansen, August 20, 2013

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