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Medical board moves to create disciplinary guidelines

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Medical board moves to create disciplinary guidelines

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In response to the Wisconsin State Journal series “Doctor Discipline” that examined the state's dismal record of serious disciplinary actions against bad doctors, the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board formed a committee to create better guidelines for disciplining doctors.

David Wahlberg wrote this series for the Wisconsin State Journal as a 2012 National Health Journalism Fellow. Other stories in this series include:

Wisconsin doctors who make mistakes often don't face serious consequences

Some doctors not disciplined, even following large malpractice settlements 

Medical Board says lack of money, authority ties hands and may attract subpar physicians to state  

Medical Examining Board plans changes in response to State Journal investigation  

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board on Wednesday formed a committee to create guidelines for disciplining doctors like those used in North Carolina and Ohio, states that rank much higher than Wisconsin in rates of serious discipline.

The medical board responded to the State Journal’s “Doctor Discipline” series in January.

The three-day series showed that Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states in serious discipline largely because of the board’s heavy use of reprimands instead of harsher penalties, including in cases that seriously harm or kill patients. The board also gave reprimands to doctors who wrote sick notes for protesters at the Capital Square in 2011.

“I like the idea of codifying some of this so that we apply some consistency to the process,” said Dr. Kenneth Simons, vice chairman of the board. “You come in and go, ‘We treated this one way different than that one.’ I don’t think that’s really fair to the docs of this state.”

Most people on the 13-member board said they want guidelines like those used by the State Medical Board of Ohio, which suggest minimum and maximum penalties for various violations.

Dr. Timothy Swan said such guidelines would give the Wisconsin board more structure when issuing discipline, “so that we don’t step outside those bounds and make up inconsistent sanctions for individuals.”

Dr. Timothy Westlake was the only board member who opposed adopting guidelines. “I’m fearful of the intrusion of regulation,” he said.

Dr. Rodney Erickson agreed that “we don’t want more bureaucracy” but said he favored guidelines. “We do want more clarity and consistency,” he said.

Simons, Swan and Greg Collins, one of three non-doctor members of the board, were named to the committee, which will give an initial report to the board next month.

Ohio, where the medical board has much more money and staff than in Wisconsin, ranked third among states and the District of Columbia in serious discipline against doctors in 2009 to 2011, according to a report last year by the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen.

North Carolina, which has similar guidelines, ranked 16th. Wisconsin ranked 46th, up from 49th the previous three years.

Even though the Wisconsin board moved to create disciplinary guidelines, most board members said they didn’t want to start disciplining doctors more harshly in order to rank higher in the Public Citizen reports.

Dr. Gene Musser, a former chairman of the board, said Wisconsin might have better doctors than in other states. The state’s quality of health care is generally ranked high.

Ranking the states “creates a problem of perception rather than of reality,” Musser said.

But Dr. Sheldon Wasserman, board chairman and a former Democratic state Assembly member, said politicians and the public pay attention to such rankings.

“The perception becomes the reality,” Wasserman said. “You have to be aware of that.”

This story originally ran in The Wisconsin State Journal on May 16, 2013.

Photo Credit: Wisconsin State Journal