The Florida arrest of an 18-year-old posing as a holistic physician made national headlines during the third week of February 2016. While no one appears to have suffered from a misdiagnosis, botched surgery or prescribing error, the fake doctor did perform physical examinations in a storefront office. He had also advertised online, even going so far as to create an ersatz medical Facebook page and register with sites that allow people to rate and research practitioners.
News coverage stuck to a "can you believe it!" tone. Sadly, the story could be told often.
Practicing medicine without a license is the very definition of malpractice. The problem of untrained individuals harming people was once so common that each state long ago adopted some version of Virginia's statute 54.1-2902: "It shall be unlawful for any person to practice medicine, osteopathic medicine, chiropractic, podiatry, or as a physician’s or podiatrist’s assistant in the Commonwealth without a valid unrevoked license issued by the Board of Medicine."
One means of upholding the law is to suspend and revoke licenses--and, thus, practicing privileges--to doctors whose repeated or egregious errors leave patients disabled or dead. State medical boards often do a poor job of enforcing license suspensions or even punishing negligent and reckless health care practitioners in the first place. A USA Today investigative report published in 2013 uncovered the following frightening realities:
- From 2001 to 2011, nearly 6,000 doctors had their clinical privileges restricted or taken away by hospitals and other medical institutions for misconduct involving patient care. But 52 percent… never were fined or hit with a license restriction, suspension or revocation by a state medical board.
- Nearly 250 of the doctors sanctioned by health care institutions were cited as an "immediate threat to health and safety," yet their licenses still were not restricted or taken away. …
- Among the nearly 100,000 doctors who made payments to resolve malpractice claims from 2001 to 2011, roughly 800 were responsible for 10 percent of all the dollars paid and their total payouts averaged about $5.2 million per doctor. Yet fewer than one in five faced any sort of licensure action by their state medical boards.
This places the ultimate duty for protecting patients from potentially dangerous and/or unlicensed doctors on hospitals, clinics and medical practices. Commercial real estate owners also have a role to play in ensuring that people applying to lease medical offices truly hold all the credentials they claim and have good histories of responsible care. Patients need everyone acting in their best interests.