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Florida doctors still licensed after multiple malpractice payouts

When a physician is found responsible for wrongdoing in multiple medical malpractice suits, most people expect the state medical board to take action to restrict or revoke that doctor's license. In Florida, that accountability is sorely lacking.

The show "CBS This Morning" recently reported on a case involving a St. Petersburg surgeon who settled a medical malpractice case brought by another physician whose wife died following an emergency appendectomy. After she bled to death, her husband reviewed her hospital records. He says that although her blood pressure after the surgery was unusually low, no tests were done to ascertain the problem.

It turns out that the surgeon who operated on his wife had already paid damages in 11 medical malpractice lawsuits. This is among the most of any physician currently practicing in the state. However, there were no restrictions on his license by the Florida Board of Medicine. In fact, of the 25 Florida physicians with the most payouts (either from settlements or judgments), only four lost their medical licenses. Astonishingly, three of those revocations occurred after arrests for billing fraud or drug trafficking. The fourth was for the doctor's non-compliance with a more lenient penalty.

The board notified the widower in the appendectomy case that it found no basis for action against the surgeon. The man, who is raising the couple's two young sons, questions whether the board even investigated the case.

No one from the board would talk with CBS News. However, in a statement, it said that it followed "due process of law in order to ensure the rights and entitlements of all parties...." and was "diligent in its efforts to ensure the public is protected from unsafe or unscrupulous health care practice."

A doctor with the group Public Citizen says that other state medical boards are guilty of lack of accountability for malpractice. However, the watchdog group has ranked Florida among those with the fewest actions taken.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation offers a searchable database for medical professional liability claims at apps.fldfs.com/PLCR/Search/MPLClaim.aspx. However, patients facing emergency situations cannot research a physician or medical facility. We rely on medical boards and other authorities to help ensure that negligent or unqualified professionals are not given an opportunity to endanger the public. When they do cause injury or worse, it is essential that they be held legally accountable.

Source: CBS News, "Despite multiple malpractice payouts, doctors often keep practicing" Ben Eisler and Mark Strassmann, Sep. 12, 2014

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