Jan. 15, 2004

Public Citizen Report Describes Some of Maryland’s Dangerous Doctors as Physicians Gear Up for a March on Annapolis

Despite 2003 Passage of Disclosure Law, Public Still in Dark About "Repeat Offender" Doctors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Maryland’s real medical malpractice problem is a subset of "repeat offender" doctors who have not been disciplined, whose names are hidden from public disclosure and who thrive in an environment where malpractice lawsuit awards are capped, according to a Public Citizen report released today.

These findings stand in stark contrast to claims made by the Maryland Medical Society (MedChi) and Medical Mutual, the largest insurer of doctors in the state. MedChi is preparing for a January 21 statehouse demonstration to demand that the state legislature pass a law that will significantly limit a patient’s ability to hold a health care provider fully accountable for negligence.

The study was spurred by Public Citizen’s finding that just 3 percent of Maryland’s doctors have been responsible for 50.8 percent of malpractice payouts to patients since 1990, when the federal National Practitioner Data Bank began collecting such information. The study determined that under Maryland’s new "Physician Profile" law, only five of 180 repeat offender doctors are eligible to have their names made public on the state Web site — and none have yet been posted.

The study focuses on some of the 143 three-time malpractice offenders who have never been disciplined and remain eligible to practice in Maryland. Three of the dangerous doctors, referred to as Doctors X, Y and Z in the report, injured five or more patients.

"The report provokes several questions for MedChi," said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch and an author of the study. "Will Doctors X, Y and Z be marching in Annapolis on Wednesday? If they lobby for the bill, will they disclose their records to legislators? Will they be covered by a proposed damages cap? And why shouldn’t the state tell the public who they are?

"Marylanders need to look beyond the scare tactics of the Medical Society," Clemente added. "It would be a huge mistake to restrict patients’ legal rights so that they cannot hold doctors, hospitals and insurance companies fully accountable for deaths or serious injuries."

Public Citizen called on the legislature to improve disclosures of repeat malpractice offenders rather than penalize the victims of malpractice. Under the physician discipline reform law enacted last year, the fact that a doctor has settled three or more malpractice cases is supposed to be disclosed, but only if all three occurred during the past five years and if each settlement exceeded $150,000. According to Public Citizen’s analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank records, only five Maryland doctors are covered by the law. Worse yet, none of the five’s records has yet been posted on the Board of Physicians’ Web site.

Public Citizen’s report pieces together the stories of three of the state’s dangerous doctors – and their victims – from public records, redacted files of the National Practitioner Data Bank and the few details of lawsuits that are not hidden by confidential settlements. All three doctors are still practicing in Maryland despite having lost or settled five or more lawsuits.

Findings in the report include:

  • Doctors with repeated malpractice claims against them suffer few consequences. Only 20.6 percent (37 of 180) of Maryland doctors who made three or more malpractice payouts since 1990 were disciplined by the Maryland authorities. Moreover, Maryland in 2002 ranked 46th among all states and the District of Columbia for the frequency with which it takes serious disciplinary actions against doctors for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses or other offenses, according to Public Citizen’s analysis.
  • Doctor X, an obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in the Baltimore area, has made payments to at least seven patients who sued him for medical malpractice since 1981. In one case, Dr. X punctured a patient’s colon during surgery, nearly costing the patient her life. This case resulted in a jury verdict for the patient in June of 2000 of $1.5 million, later reduced due to Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages, which is significantly higher than the $350,000 cap that is proposed. Dr. X has never been disciplined by the state of Maryland.
  • Doctor Y, an orthopedic surgeon practicing in the Baltimore area, has made payments to at least five patients who sued him for medical malpractice since 1980. In one case, Dr. Y performed an unnecessary carpal tunnel surgery on a patient that created a cascade of problems including numerous corrective surgeries. He ordered follow-up procedures to fraudulently conceal his original negligence. An arbitrator ruled in favor of the patient and awarded her almost $1.4 million. Doctor Y has never been disciplined by the state of Maryland.
  • Doctor Z, an orthopedic surgeon practicing in the Baltimore area, has made payments to at least six patients who sued him for medical malpractice since 1989. In one case, he lacerated a patient’s nerves during carpal tunnel surgery. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount. Doctor Z was put on probation by the state of Maryland within the past 10 years and his probation was terminated two years later. But he currently practices with no restrictions on his license and has numerous current cases pending against him.

Click here to view the report.