If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, or if you are a patient who is considering whether to work with a specific physician, you may be wondering if the doctor has hurt other patients in the past.
As a general rule, doctors do not have to notify patients if they have previously been sued for medical negligence or even paid out a malpractice settlement or verdict. So, it is usually left to the patient to research a doctor’s history.
The patient’s research may reveal a shocking truth: Many doctors continue to practice medicine in New York and elsewhere despite paying out one or more malpractice claims. In some cases, doctors with nearly a dozen malpractice claims to their name still continue to see patients.
Keep in mind: Medical malpractice law is designed to compensate injured patients. It is not a substitute for the disciplinary process that should — but all too often does not — keep negligent doctors from harming others.
How Can a Doctor Still Practice Following a Medical Malpractice Claim?
When a patient sues a doctor for medical malpractice, it is a civil matter. It is either tried before a court or (as in most cases) it is settled privately between the parties.
The medical malpractice system exists separate and apart from the state medical boards that are responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors. It is the function of the medical boards to determine whether a doctor is allowed to continue practicing medicine.
Unfortunately, medical boards are often too slow to respond to complaints about a physician’s negligence or other misconduct.
A 2013 investigation published by USA Today found that “thousands of doctors who have been banned by hospitals or other medical facilities aren’t punished by the state medical boards that license doctors.”
USA Today focused on the case of one Texas doctor accused of killing a patient through the negligent over-prescription of painkillers. The Texas medical board previously fined and disciplined the same doctor multiple times during the previous decade without revoking his medical license.
After more than four years of investigations and hearings, the board finally barred the doctor from seeing patients. However, the board did not revoke his license.
The USA Today report also revealed that “nearly 6,000 doctors had their clinical privileges restricted or taken away by hospitals,” yet more than half of them were not disciplined by their respective state medical boards.
Even “severe misconduct” went unpunished in more than 250 cases, according to the report.
Perhaps most concerning, doctors with the worst medical malpractice records frequently went unpunished. USA Today identified approximately 800 doctors who “were responsible for 10 percent of all the dollars paid” in medical malpractice judgments during a 10-year period.
However, approximately 80 percent of these physicians faced no revocation, suspension or even restriction of their state medical licenses.
Indeed, it is entirely possible for a physician to keep treating patients even after committing nearly a dozen proven and documented acts of medical malpractice.
A September 2014 report published by CBS News discovered a Florida doctor who had “had 11 medical malpractice lawsuit payouts since 2000.” Still, the doctor faced no disciplinary action from the state’s medical board.
Altogether, CBS News found, out of the 25 Florida doctors with the highest medical malpractice payouts in that state, “not a single one of them had been stopped from practicing solely for providing poor medical care” even four lost their licenses for other reasons.
The problem is hardly limited to states like Florida and Texas. As our law firm previously noted, the New York Public Interest Research Group found “more than 77 percent of doctors” with sanctions for medical negligence by New York officials continued to practice medicine.
Most of the doctors who were disciplined were originally sanctioned in other states. In other words, they were not investigated or prosecuted by New York officials.
How Can I Find Out If My Doctor Has Committed Medical Malpractice?
In New York, the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) has the legal authority to investigate complaints against doctors licensed to practice in the state. The OPMC maintains a public database of all disciplinary actions taken against physicians and physician assistants.
Keep in mind: The information provided by OPMC is limited only to final disciplinary actions taken. The public is not allowed to access complaints that were filed but never acted upon. Also, the OPMC does not record medical malpractice claims.
Another website published by the New York Department of Health, www.nydoctorprofile.com, allows patients to search for information about an individual doctor’s education, license status and prior medical malpractice or other legal actions.
You can also learn more about a doctor’s medical malpractice history by searching publicly available court records. However, this can be a time-consuming process. Different courts within New York State maintain different databases. So, court records may provide an incomplete picture of a physician’s malpractice history.
For instance, many cases are filed but dismissed by the court as frivolous. Many other medical malpractice cases settle without a trial or an admission of wrongdoing. This can make it difficult to learn if the doctor was actually responsible for an act of medical negligence.
Seek Help from an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney
Of course, if you have any reason to suspect your doctor has committed medical malpractice in your case, it is imperative that you seek immediate legal assistance.
Medical malpractice is a serious matter. You should never attempt to deal with a negligent doctor on your own.
An experienced medical malpractice attorney in Albany, Syracuse or elsewhere in New York can guide you through the complex legal process of filing a medical malpractice claim, thoroughly investigate your case and pursue the compensation you are due.
A medical malpractice lawyer can also help you to file a complaint with state officials to try and hold a negligent doctor accountable so that he or she cannot injure other patients.
If you need advice on this or any other matter related to medical negligence, please feel free to contact the attorneys at Powers & Santola, LLP. We always provide free consultations.