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Q&A with Jeanne Bouillon Part 2: Removing the veil from medical malpractice histories

Q&A with Jeanne Bouillon Part 2: Removing the veil from medical malpractice histories

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Jeanne Bouillon nearly bled to death after a gynecological procedure went awry. When she found out that the doctor who had performed the procedure had been sued several times to the tune of more than $700,000, she started fighting in Illinois and in Washington D.C. for better disclosure laws that would allow patients to see a physician's malpractice and disciplinary history. One piece of legislation she fought for, the Patient Right-to-Know Act, eventually made its way into law in 2005.

The first part of my interview with Bouillon ran on Friday. The second part is below. It has been edited for space and clarity.

Q: Did the state ever discipline Dr. Joseph Dickstein based on your complaint?

A: Not based on my complaint. At that hospital in southern Illinois, he did lose his privileges. He had seriously injured women down there. We held a press conference at the hospital that took away his privileges, and I gave them a plaque to honor the hospital for being a true patient advocate.

Q: And why didn't your complaint about him go anywhere with the state?

A: They closed my case with no wrongdoing because you have to prove gross negligence. Negligence isn't good enough. In other words, if I had died, it would have been on his record. There were babies who died and other things that happened, and those were considered more serious.

Q: But still you persisted in pushing for more public information about Dickstein and other doctors. Why not just give up after the state closed your case?

A: Well, it took them a while to close the case, for one. I had so many doctors mad at me here in Macoupin County. I had town meetings and put posters up and they were taking them down as soon as I could put them up.

Q: Were you worried about legal action against you?

A: I kind of had the tiger by the tail. What could they do? These were facts. You could almost put this in the same category as priests who abused young children. When those allegations came out, what could the priests do? What could the church do? Well, the church tried to hide it. And that's how I feel the other doctors and the hospitals a lot of times act. They just turn their heads and hope it goes away.

Q: Weren't you concerned, though, about how you might be treated by other doctors once they knew you were this activist who was going after a doctor who you said had mistreated you?

A: I did worry about that a little. I had to have two more major surgeries to get myself fixed and back to normal. Or somewhat normal. It took a long time after that for me to feel normal again.

Q: What were you running up against as you were pushing to have this malpractice information made more accessible?

A: It comes down to the root of all evil: the love of money. I had actually been a quiet person my whole life, someone who never had a big mission. But this whole experience brought this other side of me out.

Q: Who were you working with at the time to lobby the General Assembly?

A: At the time with a nonprofit called Families Advocating Injury Reduction or FAIR. They were in Champaign, Illinois. They've been dismantled.

Q: From your perspective, when you were pushing the "Patient Right to Know Act," what did the physicians' lobby do in response?

A: I know our group was trying to meet with the Illinois Medical Society for a long time, and they finally agreed to meet with us. We went to Chicago with the director of FAIR. They did apologize to me, but they said they weren't willing to have information about malpractice cases released. They didn't think the public could comprehend the information, that we would make our decisions based only on if this doctor ever had a malpractice suit.

Q: What did you say?

A: I said we would like to have the honest professional history of these doctors. Not a veiled history, which I felt was what was given to me before I went to see Dr. Dickstein.

Q: So after FAIR disbanded, what did you do?

A: I worked with the Coalition for Consumer Rightsfor quite a while too. And then they disbanded, too. And then there was another group I was involved with for a while. But then my sister turned 40 and had a baby the next day and moved in with us. She just moved out last October, so I had her here for six years. That ended my years of going on the warpath.

Q: While you were on the warpath, what did you learn about the doctor discipline system in Illinois?

A: I learned a lot, and a lot I learned I did not like.

Q: Where is Dr. Dickstein now?

A: The last I heard he was working in a public health clinic doing tests for sexual transmitted diseases with no surgical privileges. That teed me off, too. Now he's treating just the indigent people who have no choice but to go to him.

Q: What do you think should be done now that the Supreme Court has stripped away the malpractice histories from the state's website?

A: I think the doctors should step up and do the right thing. They know that this is important information for patients to have. Everybody makes mistakes, and honesty is the best policy. I don't think it's fair that our state regulators have the true story and don't release that information to us. They give us a veiled report. That is not right.

Q: But the Supreme Court has said that it's unconstitutional to put a cap on malpractice damages, and, in doing so, they took apart the law that allowed malpractice histories to be revealed, too. Aren't the state's hands tied?

A: I went and testified against that cap, too. How can you lump every heartache into one lump sum amount?It should be case by case without these limits. But I don't think the rest of the law should have been thrown out with the cap. A lot of people worked their butts off to get the law passed on patients' rights to know. It was the only thing that kept us going. When I was in the middle of all those doctor visits and surgeries and trying to get back on my feet, I was having so many thoughts and emotions but was never able to take any action. Once I realized I didn't have to keep my mouth shut, then I started to actually feel better. Otherwise I couldn't stand to even go out to my front porch to get my mail. It was horrible. This is actually the first time I have talked about it and didn't cry.

Related Posts:

Q&A with Jeanne Bouillon: Turning anger into action, changing state law on doctor discipline

Doctors Behaving Badly: Chicago doc accused in baby's death gets by with a little help from the Klan

Q&A with Mary Flowers, Part 1: Bringing medical mistakes out of the shadows

Q&A with Mary Flowers Part 2: Adding "sorry" to the medical lexicon

Chicago's Buried Bodies, Part 1: Illinois regulators make backgrounding doctors near-impossible

Chicago's Buried Bodies, Part 2: Millions in malpractice judgments amount to nothing in Illinois

Chicago's Buried Bodies, Part 3: The doctor discipline ball bounces to the legislative court

Doctors Behaving Badly: Illinois obstetrician's malpractice case leaves one patient victorious, others stonewalled



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