A new report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA TODAY, and MedPage Today finds that in many cases across the United States, doctors willingly surrender their license in one state so that they can continue practicing in another. This is usually done to prevent a formal hearing by the state medical board, in many cases saving the doctor from restrictions on further practice areas.
At Brown & Barron, LLC, we have seen the harm that can result from healthcare professionals’ negligence. If you or someone you know has suffered at the hands of a physician who previously surrendered a medical license, our Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys are here to help you seek justice and financial recompense.
Surrendering a License
States are allowed to penalize doctors who have surrendered their licenses in other geographic locations. However, many states do not keep any record of doctors whose licenses have been surrendered, or who have been put under review by a state medical board in the past. There is also no law mandating that the public be notified in cases of voluntary license surrenders.
A medical license may be suspended for reasons such as surgical error, mishandling a prescription, or improper conduct with a patient. In order to subvert the stigma that comes with these charges and avoid the costs of going through an official hearing, many doctors choose to surrender their state license to the medical board before their case is ever officially reviewed.
According to the Journal Sentinal/USA TODAY/MedPage investigation, over 250 doctors who previously surrendered their medical license are currently practicing in another state. One in three of the doctors in question only had to change their address before being allowed to practice without restrictions. There were 73 cases in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to doctors regarding patient safety, though only one doctor was penalized as a result of these warnings. Another 216 doctors from the investigation were found to have received $26 million in federal taxpayer money via Medicare despite the fact that they had lost a license or been barred by state-paid healthcare statutes. An earlier investigation also concluded that 500 doctors who faced disciplinary action in the past were able to continue practicing in other areas with impunity.
These investigations were done in partnership with TruthMD, which collects information on doctors from around the country for hospitals and insurance companies. The data used in TruthMD’s findings goes back to 2013, which means there may be many other doctors who surrendered licenses before the investigation began, but continue to practice
In some states, information concerning license surrenders is exceptionally hard to uncover. A 2012 case from Maryland showed that a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent therapy gave up his license in order to avoid disciplinary review, but his file does not provide any specific information, only a reference to “unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine.” In a letter from the same year, the psychiatrist in question stated that he had already planned to retire from medicine before surrendering his license. Yet he later took legal action to be able to practice in Pennsylvania, where the medical board reprimanded him before eventually reinstating his license. Official documents eventually revealed he had a romantic relationship with a former patient at the time he surrendered his license in Maryland. This type of behavior is viewed as unethical by the American Psychiatric Association and is forbidden by many state medical boards.
Oftentimes, doctors move from state to state until they find somewhere with a medical board that will still allow them to practice. For example, one surgeon removed what was deemed to be a healthy kidney during colon surgery in Louisiana, while accidentally removing woman’s fallopian tubes in lieu of her appendix (which had already been removed) in California. After performing more surgeries on the woman in California, including a procedure that supposedly disconnected her intestine, the surgeon moved to New York. He had already surrendered his license in California and Louisiana before coming under review in New York. Yet before the New York state medical association could issue sanctions, he surrendered his license there as well and moved to Ohio, where he currently practices.
Other examples of doctors who were allowed to continue practicing in other states after surrendering a medical license include:
- A Wisconsin heart surgeon who faced two malpractice suits following several patient deaths
- A New Jersey cardiologist who engaged in sexual relations with 6 patients “under the guise of medical treatment”
- A neurologist, also practicing in New Jersey, who pled guilty to criminal charges for bribing other doctors for referrals and filing insurance claims for procedures that were never performed
Occasionally, the reverse occurrence happens, and a doctor will continue practicing in their own state after losing their license in another. In a case from 2015, an obstetrician agreed to permanently surrender his license in California after engaging in sexual relations with several patients, inappropriately prescribing a tranquilizer, and failing to show up to the hospital for births in New Mexico. He also reportedly kept alcohol at work and was seen intoxicated several times on the clock. Though barred from practicing in California, he is still allowed to practice in New Mexico. In another case, a doctor was given a year-long jail sentence in Indiana after pleading guilty to battering a nurse. He also willingly surrendered his license in California but remains allowed to practice in Indiana. A pain clinic doctor had his license suspended in New York and California, after a report from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed him as the 48th largest purchaser for oxycodone in the U.S. Despite surrendering in New York and California, he was allowed to keep practicing in his native state, Florida, after an official censure and a period of probation.
Although the National Practitioner Data Bank has been compiling a centralized collection of malpractice settlements, disciplinary actions, and other restrictions leveled against healthcare professionals since 1986, the information collected by the organization is not available to the public. This congressional resource also remains underutilized by medical boards. Among the 30 observed in this recent article, the Data Bank’s findings were used under 100 times, and 13 medical boards didn’t use them at all.
Contact a Baltimore Malpractice Attorney
The evidence is clear. An unacceptable amount of healthcare professionals continue to be allowed to practice, despite surrendering their licenses following gross misconduct. Doctors who receive a reprimand in their home state too often move on to another, or end up allowed to practice in their home state despite having their medical license revoked elsewhere. There isn’t enough federal oversight tracking these cases, and the public remains largely in the dark when it comes to the official records of their physicians, therapists, surgeons, specialists, and general practitioners.
At Brown & Barron, LLC, we believe it is unacceptable for doctors whose actions cause grievous harm to patients to be allowed to continue practicing. Our medical malpractice lawyers will fight to secure proper compensation stemming from doctor negligence or misconduct, working towards long-term financial stability for you. Don’t let expensive medical bills, hidden insurance fees, and ongoing pain and suffering stop you from living your life. Call Brown & Barron, LLC to seek justice today.
Dial (410) 698-1717 for all your legal questions, or contact us online for a free consultation.