Patients Die But Doctors Can Still Practice - Why?

5:07 PM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
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RALEIGH, NC -- We trust our doctors to take care of us and make us feel better. But when they don't, we want answers and accountability. Last month, our partners at USA Today found 128 North Carolina doctors had clinical privileges restricted or revoked by hospitals in a 10 year span. Sixty four never got fined or had any license restriction from the state medical board. So what would make the state medical board take disciplinary action? 2 Wants To Know dug through three years worth of board-issued reprimands to find out.

Hidden in those papers are some real stories of heartache and horror. Three patients died after their doctors failed to properly diagnose problems. The wrong woman had a mastectomy after a pathologist mixed up tissue samples. And a doctor gave his clients an unapproved drug from a Canadian pharmacy as way to cut costs.

The North Carolina Medical Board reprimanded each of these providers. A reprimand just places conditions on a doctor- like more education. It does not suspend a license. So why are these medical providers able to still practice with mistakes this shocking?

"Medicine is not a field like engineering or aviation, where the expected outcome is almost certain," Medical Board President William Walker said.

Walker understands how the public could be concerned, but he stands behind the decisions and offers insight into how the process works. 

"We want to be fair. We want to be diligent. We want to be honest. But we are there to protect the public," he said.

To figure out the discipline, they look at everything from the doctor's history of problems, to the level of remorse, and if the doctor already took corrective action to keep the issue from happening again. After that, they'll make the decision about suspending the medical provider's license.

"For that to occur, we'd have to have a good belief that there is an immediate danger to the public," he said.

Again 2 Wants To Know combed through three years worth of public records. We looked at reprimands given by the board because that's the lowest level of discipline possible. In all the board handed down 68 reprimands.

  • A third of them, 23, dealt with problems prescribing medicine.
  • 15 were doctors who made the wrong treatment decisions.
  • And 12 were qualifications issue like a doctor lying on their resume or committing a crime.

If you want to read these reprimands for yourself, visit the NC Medical Board Website.

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