September 10, 2020

An investigation conducted by USA TODAY found: “As hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients and the coronavirus infected physicians and nurses, state medical boards took a hands-off approach to doctor discipline: Emergency actions against doctors’ licenses dropped 59% from April through June of this year compared with the same period last year. Emergency license suspensions and restrictions dropped 85% in April alone, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which administers the National Practitioner Data Bank and provided the analysis to USA TODAY.”

“Such state medical board slowdowns might be expected if the pandemic prompted overwhelmed health care facilities to take fewer of their own emergency actions against doctors. But a separate analysis of data from January through June showed only a 2% drop in emergency restrictions of doctors’ clinical privileges.”

USA TODAY reports: “When a hospital decides a doctor has done something so dangerous it immediately prevents them from practicing medicine there, it’s likely to be serious enough the physician shouldn’t be practicing anywhere and should at least temporarily lose his or her license, safety experts say.  The drop in emergency license suspensions worries patient safety advocates, because many hospitals still have compromised and vulnerable patients. That makes errors and complications more likely and dangerous … the data is particularly alarming because only 2% of medical board complaints even make it to the formal hearing stage. It already takes a year or more from the time a doctor is accused of harming a patient to when it gets to the data bank.”

New York, Indiana, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, and Kentucky saw declines between 50% and 100%. In Kentucky, there were no emergency revocations of physician licenses between January and June 2020 (from January to June 2019, there were ten such emergency revocations). However, some states have increased emergency actions against physicians during the coronavirus pandemic: notably, Florida took such actions against ten physicians from January to June 2020, which was an increase from four during the same period in 2019.

USA TODAY reports that The Federation of State Medical Boards, which represents the medical boards of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia, stated that its data shows a 14% decline of emergency and non-emergency disciplinary actions against doctors from January through June 2020, which the Federation attributes solely to the cornovavirus and the resulting sharp decline in office visits to physicians and possibly staff reductions.

A retired anesthesiologist who is the author of the book entitled Hospital Survival Guide believes that a shortage of physicians that has worsened during the corornavirus pandemic has led to increasing reluctance of state medical boards to restrict or suspend the licenses of physicians, citing his own experience of receiving an increasing number of job offers and increasing salary offers: “Ten years ago, in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have expected such lucrative and plentiful offers.”


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