After a doctor makes a serious surgical error that results in lasting harm to a patient, people in New Mexico may expect that the state medical board would take action and revoke his or her license. However, this is not always the case.
The Journal Sentinel reports that over the past five years, more than 250 doctors across the country voluntarily surrendered their licenses in one state due to unprofessional conduct, surgical mistakes, medication errors and other misconduct, and then began practicing medicine in another state. By volunteering to give up their licenses, many of the physicians sidestepped any trouble at all. Even those that did undergo disciplinary actions were not likely to have any public disclosure of the incident, and most did not undergo any scrutiny by the medical boards in the states they moved to.
For example, one surgeon had medical malpractice lawsuits filed against him because two out of his seven Wisconsin patients died after surgery. He surrendered his license and moved to New York, where he began practicing medicine without any problems or delays.
Many such incidents occur because states do not keep and share appropriate records between them. According to USA TODAY, there is a federal database that includes records of doctors who have undergone disciplinary actions, as well as malpractice awards and other actions against them. However, an investigation revealed that in 2017, medical boards in 13 states never checked the database once, while many others checked records fewer than 100 times. Only two states have automated their searches so that they are alerted to changes in physician records.