Doctors who are either found guilty of medical malpractice in court or settle for damages before a verdict is reached are still allowed to practice after the fact. And though it may come as a surprise, the vast majority of doctors do continue to do so. Despite the fact that hospitals, state licensing boards, and the National Practitioner Data Bank are made aware of their transgressions, many doctors continue to practice medicine, their licenses intact.
Statistics on Doctors Practicing After Malpractice
- Of the nearly 6,000 doctors which were cited for "misconduct involving patient care" from 2001 to 2011, more than half never saw any action from the state licensing board. No fines, no suspension, no revocations. This is after they had had clinical privileges restricted at the hospital they worked at.
- During the same time period, 900 doctors who were cited for negligent care or malpractice and were not penalized by the licensing board. "”Nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by health care institutions were cited as an "immediate threat to health and safety,’ yet their licenses were still not restricted or taken away," according to USA Today.
- Less than one percent of doctors accounted for 10% of all medical malpractice payments from 2001-2011. Of these, "fewer than one in five faced any sort of licensure action by their state medical boards."
How is this allowed to happen?
As far as state licensing boards are concerned, short staff and tight budgets are making it difficult for some state’s boards to operate effectively. Furthermore, the disciplinary process is long and drawn out, and must meet a high standard for burden of proof in order to trigger sanctions. While the disciplinary process is playing out, the physician often continues to practice.
Another big problem is in the hospital system. Whenever a doctor’s privileges are revoked due to substandard care or misconduct, the hospital must report this to the National Practitioner Data Bank. However, many hospitals aren’t doing so, and are finding loopholes to work their way around this requirement, according to USA Today:
At the start of 2011, more than 20 years after the National Practitioner Data Bank was set up, 47% of hospitals had never reported restricting or revoking a doctor’s clinical privileges, according to data from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the Data Bank. Public Citizen reported in 2009 that some hospitals mask cases by giving bad doctors a chance to resign before investigations are launched, or by restricting privileges for just under the 30-day threshold that requires reporting.
Peer review and self-reporting requirements create additional problems. Peer review committees are often involved in the disciplinary process, but are so confounded by bias and politics that they fail to serve their purpose. And in states where physicians are required to self-report misconduct, there are instances of the board simply never hearing about the incident, or any related payouts.