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News of the Day ... in Perspective


Physician delicensure could decrease malpractice litigation, panel says.

Experts from the University of Iowa and the Urban Institute retained by the Bush Administration say that more effective discipline of physicians could significantly alleviate the problem of malpractice litigation.

“If you take the worst performers out of practice, that will have an impact,” a researcher told The New York Times.

According to the Federation of State Medical Boards, 5,230 disciplinary actions against physicians were taken in 2003, up 7% from 2002 and 41% from 1993.

“It is extraordinarily difficult to discipline a doctor based on incompetence,” stated Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University.

It can take months or years to revoke a doctor’s license, stated Randall Bovbjerg of the Urban Institute. It is also costly, and state medical boards have small budgets and few employees to cope with thousands of complaints, he said.

“The focus on doctor discipline is noteworthy,” writes Robert Pear, “because Mr. Bush, in numerous speeches, has sided with doctors against plaintiffs' lawyers” (NY Times, 1/5/05).

Massachusetts could provide a model for other states. It automatically initiates a clinical review of any physician who has made three or more payments to patients, either as a result of settlements or judgments.

Additional information:

Why Be a Doctor? AAPS News, August 2004

Capricious license revocation

Malpractice reform: the patient’s quick primer

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