The Problem With Medical Licensing Boards; The Sacred Cow Factor

Sacred Cow

A Georgia primary care doctor was still allowed to practice even after admitting to committing  3 sexual assaults upon patients in the process of his work.

Dr. Harry McDonald was interviewed by journalist, Leighton Rowell of Channel 2 Action News and told the reporter he had paid for his crimes and deserved a second chance. He had been given restrictions by the medical board but sought to have them ended early. I don’t think most patients would want to gamble with their safety to see a doctor who had done such a thing.

Dishonest Doctor

Adrienne Jones, one of the former patients went to the police after she was assaulted. Police then had her go back wearing a wire at which time she asked him why he felt it necessary to stick his fingers up her when she had come in for suspected Mono. His explanation was that maybe he was checking her glands (it seems the standard MO for doctors who abuse patients to explain it away as just a “normal” part of their job). 

The two other patients who were interviewed were met with continuing disbelief from others in the community even after the doctor admitted wrongdoing in the case. All 3 feel that his license should have been permanently revoked. According to Rowell there are thousands of doctors still practicing after committing abusive acts on their patients. 20 women in all have filed complaints against this man. It is a sad state of affairs that it requires that many patients to report an incident before the allegations are believed and any action is taken.

In the state of Georgia 2/3 of the doctors disciplined are allowed to keep their medical licenses.

If this is disturbing to you, it should be, as medical licensing boards are the main regulatory body that patients report an abusive doctor to. In many instances the medical board will enter into a voluntary consent agreement with the offending doctor in lieu of a public hearing (which is concealed from public view). Meanwhile he is continuing to see patients none of which are aware that he has been under review for misconduct  unless the case appears on the news.

Too often medical board proceedings are not much more than a formality designed to give the appearance of impartiality. The Atlanta Journal Contitution documented 2,400  doctors committing sexual abuse nationwide over a 16 year period.

The problem is not only sexual abuse but extends to other forms of misconduct as well.

According to this article the Georgia Medical Board often waits for a criminal conviction in order to pull a doctor’s medical license. The board’s rather weak response to doctors who inappropriately prescribe narcotics is to require them to take a course on the dangers of opioids and addiction. I think most doctors already know this information. The problem is not one of ignorance, but more of arrogance. If a doctor feels he’s benefitting from such a practice he will likely keep doing it even though he knows better. Such classes are more for damage control than they are for true remediation or rehabilitation, and are a sorry excuse for disciplinary action.

Board Meeting

The article describes the case of an Emory trained doctor, Dr. Nevorn Askari whom after being busted for Medicaid fraud, went to work in a pain clinic. She admitted to mostly writing prescriptions for Oxycodone while employed there, working out of a run down old house. It took years after pharmacists were already suspicious f her orescribing habits before she was ever arrested. The medical board allowed her to continue working in her own holistic clinic even after she’d pled guilty, and only placed prescribing restrictions on her after a federal judge had placed resrictions of his own on the doctor. Even after a number of measures were put in place to track prescribing and license pain clinics the problem continues across all specialties and the medical board generally issues no more than a obligatory slap on the wrist to those found to be abusing their prescribing priviledges.

“They need to police their own industry. It’s the 1 percent you have to police and get rid of the bad apples. If their own industry doesn’t get rid of the bad apples, who does?”

                                       ~ Renee Unterman ~                                                                Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee

 

Exactly! They need to…but they won’t. Why? Firstly, because they don’t want to discipline their colleagues. The whole principle of having doctors adjudicate other doctors is intrinsically flawed (sort of like trying to force a wife to testify against her husband).

Secondly, the part Ms. Unterman didn’t mention is that there are so many doctors that normalize and minimize the severity of the types of malfeasances that are brought before the board.

Thirdly, and most importantly to further elucidate the first two reasons; doctors on the board tend to go easy on other doctors because they don’t want to become targets themselves. There is an unspoken code among doctors that they don’t like to violate even when true legal or ethical violations conflict with their misguided loyalty.

Agenda

This AJC article outlines the medical neglect at state prisons staffed by many doctors who have had problems including board violations. Ignoring inmates’ medical needs is a violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Could this be where the worst of the worst doctors are dumped by the Medical Board instead of taking serious disciplinary action against them?

Your Word is Your Bond

Our culture has placed doctors on a pedestal for so long that even when there’s blatant abuse and/or neglect many turn a blind eye. This needs to change if patients are ever to be really safe from unscrupulous doctors. For such an important thing as our health and our lives we cannot afford to give them a free pass to continue operating above the law.

Good People Doing Nothing Allow Evil

The Medical Licensing Board has a definite conflict-of-interest with patients and their best-interest. It seems more concerned with covering fellow physicians’ butts and prioritizing the preservation of their reputation above patients’ health and safety and creating a safe environment while under their care.  This is a problem nation-wide but especially true in Georgia where the board gets particularly low marks for enfoncement.

Therefore a new system is needed to handle the disciplining of doctors and those employed in such an agency need to take a zero tolerance approach when it comes to doctors who mistreat patients.

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