Connecticut's A Haven For Doctors In Trouble

December 24, 2010,0,1572509.story

Negligent Physicians Connecticut Medical Examining Board needs to toughen up

December 24, 2010

What do you do if you’re a physician in Massachusetts, Rhode Island or New York and have been disciplined by authorities — maybe even lost your license — for, say, taking drugs, having sex with your patient or delivering negligent care?

A number of doctors and other health care professionals sanctioned in those neighboring states for such offenses have set up practice in Connecticut. Why? Because authorities here are far more lax.

Connecticut too often overlooks disciplinary incidents that occur elsewhere or applies restrictions that aren’t tough enough.

Some of the best medicine in the nation is practiced in Connecticut, but sadly there is a hard-to-change culture in the health care community here of trying to paper over mistakes.

Progress has been made in publicly reporting hospital errors.

But the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, a volunteer panel of mostly physicians appointed by the governor, has yet to put enough starch in its discipline of incompetent or negligent doctors. It’s time to get as tough as our neighbors so that Connecticut is no longer known as a haven for bad practitioners.

Censured? Come To Connecticut

Journalists for the Web-based investigative team C-HIT recently conducted a study of licensing records of the past three years and found that more than a dozen physicians had escaped serious licensure actions in Connecticut although they had been issued reprimands or censures, and in some cases had their licenses revoked or were made to surrender them, in three neighboring states.

C-HIT found that some of the doctors who were sanctioned in other states promptly relocated to Connecticut, with no restrictions on their licenses. The medical examining board and the Department of Public Health, which investigates and brings complaints to the board for adjudication, presumably were aware of these discipline cases moving into Connecticut. They certainly have access to the information. Why didn’t they act on it?

A study by the Public Citizen Health Research Group shows that Connecticut ranks an embarrassing 47th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in the rate of serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards against physicians from 2007 to 2009.

History Of Troubles

This is nothing new. Connecticut has consistently been in the bottom 10 states in each of the last four three-year reporting cycles.

Connecticut’s volunteer board is not the best model for protecting patients. The board and Public Health Department are often at odds, blaming each other when things go wrong.

In 2004, Deputy Health Commissioner Norma Gyle said the board of “doctors protecting doctors” should be abolished. Last year, Audrey Honig Geragosian, director of communications for State Medical Society, suggested the volunteer board be professionalized.

What About The Patients?

Connecticut’s miserable record of cracking down on physicians who break the rules is a black mark against the state. Why isn’t patient protection always an urgent priority? It can’t be for lack of resources.

The Public Health Department will apparently propose legislation giving the state statutory authority to deem “as true” the findings of another state’s disciplinary proceedings — rather than having to examine each out-of-state case as is done now. This will make it easier for Connecticut to impose the proper restrictions on physicians practicing here who got in trouble elsewhere.

That’s a good, but belated start if the legislation comes to pass. Connecticut should meet or exceed what other states do in tracking and placing appropriate restrictions on physicians who get in trouble. This state needs to take every step necessary to shed the image of a disciplinary backwater.