The Virginia Pilot Online reports that Virginia continues to lag behind other states when it comes to patient safety, medical malpractice, and disciplining dangerous doctors and nurses. Ten years ago, an investigation revealed that Virginia often took years to strip the licenses of practicing doctors leaving a path of medical malpractice incidents behind them. Now, another national study has concluded that Virginia still suffers from medical malpractice management problems, especially related to taking fast disciplinary actions that could save lives.
The level of concern in VA has risen along with the recent publicity surrounding rheumatologist Dr. Stephen Plotnick, who may be responsible for up to ten untimely patient deaths. Seven of the deaths are related to drug overdoses based on prescriptions given to them by the doctor.
Although Plotnick’s license was revoked recently for a two-year period, and although the medical malpractice doctor has agreed to stop treating patients with chronic pain, it took the Medical Board of Virginia five years to take action. Patients who could have been saved died.
Part of the issue may be Virginia’s complaint-based system of medical malpractice reporting. Especially because it is hard to for anyone to see patterns of multiple complaints toward one doctor or medical practitioner. Even though the Virginia General Assembly passed a package of medical malpractice reforms in 2003, the problem remains, as illustrated by Plotnick’s negligent path of destruction. In fact, there is less disciplinary action taken against doctors than there was before the reforms passed.
Many agree that if peer doctors more readily turned in other doctors who they suspected of medical malpractice, conditions would improve. But many doctors are skittish about turning over coworkers or colleagues. The system would improve further, many critics think, if pharmacists also reported suspicious doctors.
William Harp, the director of the Board of Medicine in Virginia, has suggested a peer review board, along with a generally more aggressive stance toward the small number of dangerous and negligent doctors.
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