‘Safe Patient Project’ Reveals Medical Horror Stories
“You can find out more about the safety record of your toaster and whether or not it’s going to catch on fire than you can find about your physicians.” (Robert Oshel, former associate director for research and disputes at the National Practitioner Data Bank)
A new report that exposes stunning instances of doctors behaving badly – but still practicing medicine – illustrates the need for far more transparency in healthcare.
The report, part of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project, examined doctors on probation in California for misbehavior ranging from drug abuse to sexual misconduct to fatal, careless mistakes, but still practicing medicine. UN-believable.
Among the magazine’s findings: a pediatrician who was disciplined 13 times for being severely impaired by drugs; and an orthopedic surgeon who ignored his patient’s upper leg fracture to the point that the man’s leg later had to be amputated.
A significant percentage of the 1,250,000 physicians who have been licensed in the U.S. since 1990, have been subject to malpractice suits or disciplinary action. 15 % of those doctors – about 192,000 of them – have paid out at least one malpractice settlement, according to the publication. Another 50,000 others have been the subject of negative actions by state medical boards and other governing bodies. In almost every case, these punishments are hidden from the patients who are most vulnerable.
“Thousands of doctors across the U.S. are on medical probation for reasons including drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and making careless—sometimes deadly—mistakes. But they’re still out there practicing. And good luck figuring out who they are.”
The Department of Health and Human Services keeps records of these physicians through the National Practitioner Data Bank. But this critical information is legally hidden from the public and patients. Access to the database is limited to hospitals, law enforcement and a few other agencies. The Safe Patient Project maintains that citizens have a right to know this information.
“The onus shouldn’t be on patients to investigate their physicians,” said Project Director Lisa McGiffert. “Doctors on probation should be required to tell their patients of their status.”
Medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., yet hospitals and physicians are allowed to hide behind a truly ugly “culture of secrecy” to lessen their exposure to lawsuits and punishment. As healthcare protocols shift toward patient-centered, value-based models, which demand transparency, efforts such as Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s medical errors blog, are gathering leverage across the country.
Hospitals that adopt an accountability approach, such as offering patients apologies and explanations of what went wrong, while involving them in the effort to prevent future similar errors, are finding that what victims of medical errors want isn’t necessarily money. Rather, they want to be heard and understood and to know that something is being done to keep the error from happening again.