Study: Medical malpractice often goes unaddressed by medical board

A recent review of cases brought before the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board between 2010 and 2012, yielded some surprising, if not disturbing, results. In many of cases involving clear doctor error, the medical board did not take any action. And, in more than half of the cases where action was taken, the doctors only received reprimands. Perhaps the most surprising part of these results was this: in at least 50 of the cases studied, patients had been injured or sickened by the doctor's malpractice or even died as a result of the errors.

Whether this leniency was a result of limited funding, lack of authority, or reluctance to punish physicians was left unclear. It does cost money to revoke a doctor's license or to hand out and monitor suspensions, and the board's chairman admitted that was part of the problem.

"It would be nice to have revocations. It would be nice to have stronger suspensions," he told reporters. "But that comes at a cost. We don't have the resources."

However, considering the monetary, physical and emotional impact on injured patients and surviving family members, this failure is extremely disappointing.

While this study took place in another state and the results might have been different in Maryland, it is important for patients everywhere to realize that doctors can and do make unacceptable mistakes, some of which can be serious or even deadly. Worse, the state agencies that are entrusted with addressing failures by doctors to meet the generally accepted standard of medical care may be underfunded and inadequate.

If the consequences of medical malpractice were left to Wisconsin's medical examining board or others in similar situations, it may be that nothing will be done to correct a dangerous situation. This is one reason that medical malpractice lawsuits, which seek to hold negligent doctors financially responsible for preventable medical errors is so important. Financial consequences for serious, preventable mistakes may be the only sure way to correct individual doctors' behavior -- and to warn others that if their medical negligence harms patients, it will not go unaddressed.

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