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Problem Doctors May be in Illinois Regulators’ Blind-Spot

Casey Woodruff

What does it take to revoke the medical license of a problem doctor? Sexual misconduct? Felony drug convictions? Severe injury to a patient? According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, one particular doctor did all these things, settled a half-dozen medical malpractice suits and then started fresh in a new state.

Is he now practicing in Illinois? Despite a national physician tracking database, no one knows for sure. Why? Because the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) ─ the state’s medical regulating agency ─ doesn’t screen for problem doctors in the National Practitioner Data Bank. The databank ─ which tracks the movements of problem doctors from state to state ─ was created as an aid to state medical boards.

Today’s databank includes about 215 Illinois-licensed doctors who have had their clinical privileges restricted or revoked in other states over the last 20 years. However, the IDFPR has failed to revoke a single license.

“It is rare for hospitals and managed care organizations to take any actions against doctors,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which has been pushing state medical boards to discipline substandard doctors. “And when they do, the actions are usually very serious, which makes it even more inexcusable that the state medical board, in the face of what are very serious actions, has not done anything at all.”

An IDFPR agency spokesperson cited the high expense ─ $4.75 per report ─ as one reason it doesn’t often use the data bank. Data reliability has also been questioned. According to Annals.org, a formal system for validating clinical and behavioral performance doesn’t exist. Instead, hospitals use an informal, ad hoc approach.

Databank Offers a Screening Opportunity

After Public Citizen highlighted the issue nearly a year ago, the IDFPR conceded that it plans to use the databank to find out if the problem doctors listed are licensed in Illinois. If so, the agency plans to review records from the Federation of State Medical Boards to determine possible disciplinary action. However, the agency continues to drag its feet, indicating that protection for the doctors ─ rather than the public ─ is the priority.

Dr. Brian S. Zachariah, IDFPR’s chief medical coordinator responded to Public Citizen last month to defend the agency’s lack of action against the 215 identified problem doctors, citing burden-of-proof issues, among others.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Illinois urged to investigate doctors with tainted records,” Deborah L. Shelton, Feb. 11, 2012

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