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Do medical boards actually protect the public from bad doctors?

Last September, CBS News aired a report about the disconnect between medical licensing boards and successful medical malpractice claims against practitioners. The report focused on Florida and did not mention Pennsylvania at all. Even so, the network's research pointed out a problem that could undermine the credibility of medical boards in every state.

Medical boards, according to the report, are responsible for keeping dangerous physicians from practicing. If a board does not investigate or take action against a physician with a history of malpractice, is it not failing in its mission to protect the public from dangerous doctors? Is there a way to connect licensing and discipline with the civil justice system?

According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, there is room for improvement with licensing, too. The organization reports that when it comes to initial licensure, 45 state boards require a criminal background check and 39 boards require fingerprinting. Florida requires both; Pennsylvania requires neither. Is there a better way to screen candidates when they first apply or practitioners when they renew their licenses?

The answers, of course, lie with state legislatures. The Pennsylvania General Assembly has authority over the activities and responsibilities of the board, just as the Florida Legislature makes the laws that govern that state's medical board.

This all came up when we ran across an article about a bill before the Wisconsin Legislature. The bill would require cameras to be installed in every operating room in the state. The recordings would afford medical malpractice victims and their families (and their lawyers) a look at what really happened, rather than having to rely on personal accounts and chart notes to explain how an adverse event came about. The bill might also keep the surgical team in line: Knowing that the camera is running, surgeons and their colleagues would presumably be less likely to joke, to bully or to give in to distractions.

What impact would those cameras have on disciplinary actions? Could they help to narrow the divide between discipline and malpractice? The bill raises questions about patient privacy and consent, certainly, but would it touch the processes and procedures of a board of medicine?

Sources:

Washington Post, "Could cameras in operating rooms reduce preventable medical deaths?," Tom Jackman, Aug. 25, 2015

Federation of State Medical Boards, "Criminal Background Checks: Board-by-board Review," accessed Aug. 28, 2015

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