Dr. Larry M. Isaacs inadvertently removed a patient's kidney during what was intended to be a colon procedure in Louisiana. While in California practicing, he extracted a fallopian tube instead of an appendix. While next practicing in New York a medical regulatory agency sought to discipline him for surgical mistakes he made in California.
Isaacs chose to surrender his New York medical license and began practicing in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Isaacs' medical license in Ohio appeared to have no incidents of malpractice or professional misconduct. This is an example of a “state hopping” problem that exists in the country where physicians simply move their practice to a different state when facing allegations.
A report from MedPage Today, in conjunction with USA Today and others, revealed that over 250 physicians have surrendered a medical license in one state and began practicing in a different one. John Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks this practice of surrendering a state license and moving elsewhere is “very concerning”. A large percentage of those who move to another state end up having no incidents noted on their license history.
- Sean Yetman, a heart surgeon at Meriter Hospital in Wisconsin, conducted seven surgical procedures at the facility. Two of those operations had fatal consequences and cases of medical malpractice were filed. Dr. Yetman moved to New York shortly after and continued practicing.
- Cardiologist John Strobeck was charged with sexual misconduct in New Jersey stemming from multiple incidents. He then began practicing in California; however, the medical board there began investigating him. He then relocated to New York and continued working despite pending claims.
- Neurologist Gautam Sehgal pled guilty to a criminal “kickback” scheme in New Jersey and surrendered his license there. He was found to be practicing without any record of wrongdoing later in California.
State-to-State Communication Failures
Congress implemented the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) in 1986, which serves as a central database for medical license information. Incidents such as actions of medical malpractice, agency actions of discipline and physician licensing restrictions are supposed to be reported to the NPDB. There are now over 1 million records contained in the database.
Unfortunately, many state medical boards are not following through on these reporting requirements. The Maryland Board of Physicians now has its own state system for reporting with a simple lookup tool.
Cause for Concern
Michael Carome M.D. represents an advocacy group known as Public Citizen. He has looked closely at how many states are failing to comply with reporting physician disciplinary actions. He has found instances where physicians are basically surrendering their licenses “secretively.”
Other problems include documentation that is extremely vague. For example, one entry was simply listed as “unprofessional conduct” with no further details of the action.
Reporting Disciplinary Action
In the years before the internet state-to-state reporting was much worse. With today's interconnected digital environment it seems that these “loopholes” should not exist. States have compiled much better with the National Driver Register (NDR) that contains all drivers' license information.