‘Lecter’ surgeon’s license not suspended for months, part II

In our last post, we discussed a surgeon who harmed so many patients with his errors that his colleagues said he was one of the worst they had ever seen. One fellow surgeon compared him to Hannibal Leceter. We detailed several cases of the doctor committing horrific surgical errors against his patients, crippling and even killing several of them.

Readers likely were left wondering how such an apparently incompetent surgeon was allowed to continue practicing, even as his patients were consistantly left in worse shape after being in his “care.” The answer has to do with how the medical board in his state investigates and punishes dangerous or negligent doctors.

Based on the laws in that state, it can be difficult even to get a doctor investigated for negligence. A doctor must send the board a written complaint about a colleague. The board has 45 days to decide whether or not to pursue an investigation. If it decides to proceed, the board subpoenas hospital records and selects two volunteers in the same speciality to review the case. This process can take several months.

Once their investigation is complete, the volunteers may make a case for suspending or revoking the doctor’s license to the board. The board is frequently reluctant to move forward with a case unless the evidence is very strong, because it wants to avoid costly litigation.

For these reasons, a typical complaint of medical malpractice takes that state’s medical board an average of nine months to consider. In that time, the accused doctor is free to continue practicing, and patients may never learn of the complaint.

The intent is to protect doctors against losing their licenses due to frivolous claims, but the result is also to expose patients to possibly reckless or incompetent doctors and surgeons.

Source: Texas Observer, “Anatomy of a Tragedy,” Saul Elbein, Aug. 28, 2013

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