BALTIMORE - DELAYS ARE MORE THAN JUST MARYLAND'S PROBLEM
Our investigation points out some lengthy delays in the disciplining of doctors....that's the take home message. But we also tried to raise another point in the story - about how doctors who get disciplined (even if it takes years) can potentially jump ship and go to another state.
It's an important issue to discuss - but in the broadcast world you only get so much time to tell a story, so even when you know amazing things, there simply isn't enough room in the story to share.
It's one of the toughest parts of our job...because when you have delved so deeply into a topic, you want everyone to know EVERYTHING that you know. I didn't have time in the story - but I've got all the space in the world on this blog, so I'll explain.
So here's the deal. Doctor discipline is handled by individual states. In Maryland, the Maryland Board of Physicians is the agency in charge.
Each individual state has an agency similar to that. There's no national board of medicine or an agency that regulates licenses.
The states, in this situation, wield the power to license and punish physicians. This is great because the individual boards are physically there...the patients have an actual location they can complaint to that's close by.
But some believe the localization of discipline can create some problems because as I mentioned before, doctors who get in some kind of trouble have the option to leave the state and go elsewhere.
In an ideal world, experts say the other states would know immediately about disciplinary action taken in another state and they could act accordingly. But that's not the case in most situations.
So when a doctor is disciplined, that action is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank. They keep track of all actions and lawsuits filed against doctors nationwide.
Great thing - great idea - love it....sort of. Now - here's the funny thing...YOU can't see that data base. If you want to know something about your doctor - although the NPDB has the information, the general public (this includes nosy reporters like me) cannot access the information for specific allegations or actions against a physician.
Public Citizen, an advocacy group that handles issues including access to health information, has a real problem with this limited access.
Here's the other funny thing...state medical boards like the Maryland Board of Physicians are NOT REQUIRED to check the database for discipline about doctors that cross the line into Maryland and decide to practice.
They have access to the data but there is no regulation REQUIRING them to check it. Experts believe this can then create additional delays in dealing with doctors who have been problematic because while most boards DO check the NPDB, they aren't regulated to do so - so it's not known how often those checks are made, if at all.
Hospitals, according to Public Citizen, are required to check the NPDB before they issue privileges to a physician.
Additionally, they have to check every two years for the doctors they have on their staff. So while the hospitals are REQUIRED to look at this database...medical boards are NOT REQUIRED.
This is confusing to say the least...and a portion of the story that I think still needs to be told in broadcast. I'll keep you posted on that.