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Medical Examining Board plans changes in response to State Journal investigation

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Medical Examining Board plans changes in response to State Journal investigation

Picture of David Wahlberg

A Wisconsin State Journal series on the state's dismal record of serious disciplinary actions against bad doctors, including ones that seriously harm or kill patients, led the Medical Examining Board to conclude its members and staff need more training and the board could do more if had more staff.

David Wahlberg wrote this series, Doctor Discipline, 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  

Dr. Sheldon Wasserman, center, chairman of the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board, talks with Tom Ryan, right, executive director of the board. On the left are board members Jude Genereaux and Dr. Gene Musser. The 13-member board, appointed by the governor, includes 10 doctors and three public members.
Wisconsin State Journal
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wisconsin Medical Examining Board members and staff should receive more training, and the board could do more if had more staff, members said Wednesday in discussing the State Journal's "Doctor Discipline" series last month.

"There is something wrong when we have board members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate who are then introduced into a board without proper training," said Dr. Sheldon Wasserman, chairman of the board.

Investigators and attorneys should attend national training sessions to learn how other states discipline doctors, Wasserman said, but a state ban on travel by board staff has prevented that.

The state made a $1.25 million "lapse" budget cut last year from doctor license fees. Dr. Kenneth Simons, the board's vice chairman, said that made it harder for the board to work on policies, such as a proposal to require more training for newly licensed doctors.

"We can't do some of the things we'd like to do because we lack the staffing and because we lapsed those dollars that physicians paid for us to do those jobs," Simons said.

Wasserman, Simons and others on the 13-member board discussed the newspaper's three-day series at the board's regular monthly meeting.

The series showed that Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states in serious disciplinary action against doctors largely because of the medical board's heavy use of reprimands instead of harsher penalties, including in cases that seriously harm or kill patients.

Boards in some other states — including Ohio, which ranks high in serious discipline — have larger budgets and more staff. Ohio's board has guidelines suggesting minimum and maximum penalties for various violations.

Wasserman said Wisconsin should study Ohio's guidelines.

"We don't have clear guidelines," he said. "Why do we have this nebulous system?"

Jeanette Lytle, attorney supervisor for the enforcement division of the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, which includes the medical board, told the board that staff and money are adequate.

"Resources aren't an issue when public protection is involved," Lytle said.

Lytle said the department plans to reestablish a board member training program, and she will consider sending attorneys to national training.

The travel ban has been lifted, said Jeff Weigand, a legislative liaison for the department.

Lytle told board members that they, not staff attorneys, have the final say in choosing what kind of discipline to give doctors.

But Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan, a board member, said just this week he thought a doctor should be suspended but the attorneys told him the doctor should be reprimanded.

"We had to kind of back down," he said.

This story originally ran in The Wisconsin State Journal on February 21, 2013.

Photo Credit: M.P. King/State Journal