Medical board lacks resources to punish dangerous docs

Earlier this year, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen called for the Department of Health & Human Services to investigate state medical boards for failing to punish doctors with serious medical practice violations. Since then, not much has changed, as California's medical board failed to discipline 710 dangerous doctors even though they were disciplined by hospitals, surgical centers, and other healthcare organizations where they worked, according to a report released on Tuesday by Public Citizen.

What's more, 35 percent of those doctors were repeat offenders.

Nationwide, more than 200 doctors were deemed an "immediate threat to health or safety" of patients and had their clinical privileges suspended, limited, or revoked; California docs accounted for nearly half of those. Despite hospitals taking action, medical boards let these doctors escape punishment.

According to California's medical board, a lack of adequate staffing and funding may have hindered its ability to follow up on the 710 physicians it failed to discipline, an issue that other medical boards might be struggling with amid state budget cuts.

"We believe more data needs to be obtained, but like many state agencies, we have a 20 percent vacancy rate, and we're trying to focus on our core functions," said Jennifer Simoes, a Medical Board spokeswoman, after reviewing the findings, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The watchdog group recommends boards be independent from state medical societies and other parts of the state government so they can create their own budgets and regulations to effectively ensure patient protection and quality care.

California ranked 35th in the nation for disciplining doctors in Public Citizen's 2011 analysis. The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has done the worst job, according to the report.

For more:
- read the Public Citizen press release
- read the LA Times article

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