Medical Malpractice is More Common than You Think

Few things are more troubling than being injured by your doctor. When you’re ill, you’re at your most vulnerable, and trust in healthcare practitioners is something that is often taken for granted. What is perhaps worse than being injured by an incompetent doctor is being injured by an incompetent doctor who has harmed someone else before you. It’s almost unthinkable that there aren’t foolproof controls in place to keep this from happening — but sadly, there aren’t. So if you sustain a medical malpractice injury by a doctor who has done the same thing to someone else previously, it feels like an even deeper betrayal because it should have been completely avoidable.

Malpractice in Pennsylvania

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In 2015, a Johns Hopkins University study found that medical malpractice injury accounts for more than 250,000 deaths annually in the United States, making it the third leading cause of death nationally. Further, many instances go unreported because patients don’t realize that their difficulties are due to malpractice.

Jury verdicts in Pennsylvania tell only a narrow part of the story. In 2016, 2017, and 2018, there were only 17, 21, and 18 verdicts respectively for medical malpractice plaintiffs in Pennsylvania.

Repeat Offenders

In 2018, the Journal Sentinel identified 500 physicians who are board certified to practice medicine with a completely clean record in one state but in another have committed negligence that has led to injury, incapacitation, or death. In particular, a doctor who surrenders their license in one state can often avoid the consequences and public scrutiny of their actions and simply move to another state and begin with a clean slate.

The worst cases of this are truly shocking and frightening. In Missouri, for instance, Dr. Jay Riseman practices medicine with no infractions reported against him at the state board despite being sued twelve times for malpractice and committing oversights that led to the deaths of three people in Illinois. Reporters have uncovered many other analogous examples.

How They Get Away With It

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Unscrupulous and incompetent doctors can take advantage of a scattered system of state medical boards, incomplete national oversight, and local reliance on self-reporting to pick up and move to another state when their reputation has become sullied in one part of the country.

The National Practitioner Data Bank was instituted by Congress in the 1980s and was intended to provide reporting on healthcare fraud and abuse and help protect the public from medical malpractice injury. It provides an outlet for hospitals and state boards to report malpractice and other infractions by physicians. However, access to its more than 1 million records is limited to hospitals and state licensing boards for their internal use; the public is barred from reviewing the information. Moreover, it is underutilized within the medical industry, and some states do not use it at all.

Disconnected Medical Boards

Some states have two boards, one for medical doctors and one for osteopathic doctors. Across the 62 US boards that regulate doctors at the state level, there are varying regulations and levels of reporting. There are seven potential categories that boards can report negative feedback on doctors:

  • discipline by a medical board
  • discipline from other states
  • criminal convictions
  • loss of hospital privileges
  • malpractice claims and payouts
  • Medicaid/Medicare exclusions and fraud charges
  • actions by federal regulators

None of the boards reports on all seven; only five states report on at least six. Most boards report only on incidents within their own states. Pennsylvania reports only on disciplinary actions taken by its own board; a felony, DEA charge, or even a malpractice claim would not be recorded by Pennsylvania’s board.

And where does the information that does get reported come from? Self-reporting plays a large role in the information that is collected by state medical boards. If doctors do not report out-of-state disciplinary actions, criminal offenses, or medical malpractice injury claims when renewing their licenses, the boards may never know about them. So even conscientious patients who make the time and effort to research their doctor’s history may never uncover serious infractions.

How to Protect Yourself

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Clearly, consulting Pennsylvania’s medical board will tell you little more than whether or not your doctor is licensed to practice in the state. Given the lax reporting in Pennsylvania, patients may turn to private companies such as TruthMD, LexisNexis, or PreCheck to obtain fuller pictures of their doctors’ profiles. These services compile data from multiple state and national-level sources and can inform consumers regarding any criminal or civil judgments against them along with their medical malpractice injury histories as physicians.

Call Donaghue & Labrum When Your Health is at Stake

In Pennsylvania, a medical malpractice injury must be reported within two years of the incident, or within two years of the date that the patient realizes that their issue was caused by a healthcare provider. This is why it is vital to contact a lawyer immediately upon suspecting that you or a loved one has been affected by a negligent physician.

Although your doctor is licensed to practice in Pennsylvania, they may have a history in other states that is less than stellar. If you’ve found out the hard way that a license to practice medicine does not necessarily indicate competence on the part of your doctor, contact Donaghue & Labrum right away. Our lawyers have more than 30 years of experience in handling medical malpractice cases, and we will fight for you and your family to get the maximum compensation available for your injuries.