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Are state boards failing to discipline negligent doctors?

Doctors have a duty to protect their patients. They must provide a certain standard of care when treating anyone with whom they have a relationship as a medical professional. Unfortunately, some doctors fail to provide the expected standard of care, resulting in devastating injuries or illnesses to innocent people.

When a doctor behaves negligently, we expect that the state medical board will discipline them accordingly. This is crucial for holding the doctor accountable and for discouraging future malpractice. A recent investigation, however, indicates that state boards often fail to use adequate discipline for medical professionals.

An alarming lack of discipline

An exposé by CBS News revealed that state medical board frequently under-discipline or fail to discipline doctors for medical malpractice. Several sources quoted in the investigation cite the following examples of why this may happen:

  • An aura of secrecy surrounds the medical profession, making it difficult to uncover wrongdoing
  • Boards often include doctors who may have conflicts of interest with an accused wrongdoer
  • Board members may relate to an accused doctor and feel hesitant to ruin a career

In a recent example that sparked outrage, the Indiana Medical Board fined a surgeon $500 after he failed to reveal that he had lost his surgical privileges at two hospitals. He had also settled five medical malpractice cases. The board did not, though, suspend or revoke his license. He later went on to botch a hip surgery in which he operated on the wrong part of his patient’s body.

Malpractice victims deserve justice

Incidents of medical malpractice will no doubt continue unless doctors are held accountable for harming their patients. Survivors of medical negligence or family members who lost a loved one to malpractice feel this injustice particularly fiercely. After all, no one should have to lose their health or lose a loved one to a doctor’s lack of care. Until medical boards begin using appropriate discipline, it is clearly doctors, not patients, they are protecting.

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