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Brick City Blog: Strib’s doctor discipline story fails to connect the dots

The Star Tribune has run good pieces yesterday and today on the issue of doctor discipline in the state.  Specifically, it raised the issue of whether or not the state’s Board of Medical Practice is going too easy on doctors. From Sunday’s story:

Since 2000, at least 46 Minnesota doctors escaped board discipline after authorities in other states took action against their licenses for such missteps as committing crimes, patient care errors or having sexual or inappropriate relationships with patients, records show.
In addition, more than half of the 74 doctors who lost their privileges to work in Minnesota hospitals and clinics over the past decade were never disciplined by the Minnesota board, according to a federal database used by the health care industry to track actions against physicians. At least 13 of the 47 doctors who avoided discipline were flagged for incompetence, substandard care or inadequate skills.
Minnesota’s board also has consistently declined to keep the public informed about problem practitioners by not publicizing malpractice awards and other adverse actions that are routinely disclosed in states from California to North Carolina.

What the stories have failed to do, though, is to connect the dots. The inevitable result of the failure of the Board of Medical Practice to adequately discipline doctors is more injured patients and more medical malpractice expense.

Which brings us to Minnesota’s Republican legislative delegation — one of their hot topics is “tort reform”. As part of that, medical malpractice reform is frequently discussed — specifically capping the damages victims can collect. The rationale for this is to protect doctors from excessively high malpractice insurance rates. Of course, this hasn’t actually proven to work, as numerous studies have determined.)

The reality here, though, is that we don’t need “tort reform” or liability caps. We need to get tough on doctors who make avoidable errors. The numbers demonstrate the reality — much of our medical malpractice problem comes from a small group of repeat offender doctors. Nationwide statistics show that 4.8% of doctors have two or more medical malpractice claims against them, and they represent 51% of medical malpractice incidents and 53% of medical malpractice dollars paid.

The answer here is simple: Get rid of repeat offenders, and you’ve got safer patients and less malpractice expense in the system.

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