Undated, NC - An investigation by our partners at USA TODAY last month opened our eyes to the way doctors are - or really are not - being disciplined. The USA TODAY researchers found 6,000 doctors nationwide who had clinical privileges at hospitals and clinics restricted or taken away. But more than half never faced a fine - or had their license suspended - much less had it revoked. There is a document of their case and possible discipline you can look up, but their license stays clean.
We found out each state's medical board determines the punishment doctors receive. Public actions can range from what's called "a public letter of concern" to the suspension of a doctor's license. But we wanted to know more about the complaint process. So 2 Wants to Know sat down with the Board's President Doctor William Walker.
Walker says, "We're a complaint-driven organization. We aren't out doing investigations randomly. We always try to encourage someone who believes they haven't gotten the level of care that they deserve to let us know. We're happy to look into it."
Walker says the medical board staff looks at every complaint.
"If it's a complaint that relates to patient care, or other areas we have authority over, we will review every single complaint. But not every complaint rises to the level of action," he said.
Walker continues, "Medicine is not a field like engineering, or aviation, where the expected outcome is almost certain in every single case. If the board determines that a physician has done everything that the reasonable, well-trained, thoughtful physician would do, and yet there's a bad outcome, it's very very unfortunate. Our job is to make sure the physician did as good a job as possible in the circumstances."
The North Carolina Medical Board is made up of 12 people - nine medical professionals and three members of the public. Doctor Walker said the public members' role is to look at complaints like you or I would. "The medical board was created 150 years ago, purely and simply for the benefit and protection of the people of North Carolina. The medical board is not there for the physician. We want to be fair. We want to be diligent. We want to be honest, but we are there to protect the public."
Speaking of protecting the public, that's part of our job too. So 2WTK looked into some of those letters of concern and found doctors who had a patient die in their care - only receive a letter of concern. How does that happen? Ben Briscoe's full report tomorrow on 2 Wants to Know.