In trouble in one state, physicians move on to practice in others scot-free

An investigation found hundreds of cases where doctors are disciplined in one state and go on to practice in another state with a clean record. (Image: Pixabay / Free-Photos)

A flawed system allows doctors who have run into licensing problems in one state to practice in another state with a clean record, according to an investigation.

At least 500 physicians who have been disciplined or barred from practicing by one state medical board have moved on to practice in another state with a clean license, according to a joint investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today.

Reporters reviewed records from TruthMD, a Los Angeles-based company whose MedFax service collects information on physicians from thousands of sources. They looked for physicians who faced a public board action in one state between 2011 and 2017, and had no action in at least one other state where they were licensed, according to MedPage Today.

The investigation identified more than 500 cases where doctors were able to practice with a clean record even though wrongdoing resulted in suspensions, revocation, remedial classes or letters of concern placed in their file because of misconduct.

“The pattern that emerges is both disturbing and damning: physicians who are "caught" in one state slip through the bureaucratic net in another, where they are free to practice without any disclosure,” wrote MedPage Today.

And the 500 cases identified by reporters are likely only the tip of the iceberg, as they include only cases where there was pubic action. Julia Hallisy, founder of the Empowered Patient Coalition, a California-based patient advocacy group, said the numbers underestimate the problem as many medical issues are never reported or acted on.

"The numbers you're showing are not anywhere near the real numbers," she told the investigators.

RELATED: How states handle discipline of physicians varies widely

The investigation found in most of the cases, physicians held licenses in multiple states when issues brought them before a state licensing board. But in about 20% of cases, they sought licenses elsewhere after they ran into trouble.

A prior study found there's a great variation in the rate that state medical boards choose to hand out discipline to physicians. When it comes to disciplinary action, including the revocation, suspension or surrender of a medical license, a lot may depend on where the physician practices.

Another newspaper investigation found hospitals have covered up sexual misconduct by doctors by reaching confidential settlements with patients, including a case at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.