May 5, 2015

Louisiana Legislation Would Shield Dangerous Doctors While Imperiling Patient Safety

Bill Would Block Louisiana Medical Board’s Ability to Investigate and Discipline Incompetent and Unprofessional Physicians

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Louisiana Legislature should reject HB 573, a dangerous bill that would protect incompetent and unprofessional physicians while seriously compromising patient safety in Louisiana, Public Citizen said in a letter today.

The bill, expected to be considered soon by the Louisiana House of Representatives’ Health and Welfare Committee, includes several provisions that would substantially undermine the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners’ (LSBME) ability to investigate allegations of incompetence or unprofessional conduct. Also, it would impede the board’s ability to discipline physicians found guilty of misconduct.

In its most recent ranking of state medical board performance, Public Citizen deemed Louisiana’s board one of the best in the country. The LSBME placed second for its rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians. That ranking was done in 2012, the last year for which data were available. The LSBME has been among the top 10 state medical boards for such actions since Public Citizen released its 2009 rankings.

“Perhaps those pushing this legislation, including the Louisiana State Medical Society, believe the LSBME is performing too well when it comes to investigating and disciplining physicians and protecting patients,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “But there is no question that if this bill passes, the rate of disciplinary actions against Louisiana physicians soon will decrease, and patient safety will be jeopardized.”

Key provisions of the proposed legislation that would cause the most harm to patients and public health in Louisiana include:

  • Requiring the board to accept only non-anonymous complaints made in writing. This would deter the many individuals who have witnessed physician misconduct and are afraid to use their names when reporting it.
  • Requiring that a minimum of four board members agree with taking disciplinary action against a physician – instead of the simple majority of a quorum (i.e., two of three convened members) currently required.
  • Limiting the scope of the definition of “unprofessional conduct” by creating a specific list of behaviors that could be considered unprofessional. Under this definition, the LSBME would lack the flexibility to discipline physicians for other behaviors that could reasonably be judged to constitute unprofessional conduct.
  • Removing the ability of the LSBME to make consent orders, agreements and other dispositions public. Therefore, the board would be able to tell the public that a physician was disciplined, but not why.
  • Requiring the destruction of all LSBME records and information related to a complaint and initial investigation that is dismissed. This would make it impossible to track a pattern of incompetence or unprofessional conduct by a physician.
  • Eliminating the limit on how long enforcement of final disciplinary actions can be suspended by courts – which could unnecessarily delay such actions against physicians.
  • Prohibiting the LSBME from acting on complaints if the care related to the complaint was more than three years before the complaint was filed – even if the incompetence may have resulted in serious injury or death of a patient.
  • Imposing unnecessary arbitrary procedural deadlines at multiple steps in the LSBME’s investigation process. These deadlines likely would restrict the ability of the board to fully and properly investigate the complaints. They also would provide opportunities for physicians found guilty of misconduct to delay disciplinary action based solely on non-substantive procedural grounds.
  • Prohibiting the LSBME from spending money on any activity or function sponsored by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). Severing ties between the LSBME and the FSMB would deprive the board of important resources used by all other state medical boards, weaken the board and ultimately harm patients throughout Louisiana.

“This bill represents a blatant attempt to tilt the board process for investigating and disciplining physicians from one that protects patients and public health to one that protects dangerous physicians,” Carome said. “The Louisiana Legislature needs to reject HB 573.”

Read the letter.

###