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Report: Minnesota medical board disciplines docs about half the time

About half of Minnesota doctors who have had their privileges revoked or restricted by hospitals have not been disciplined by the state medical board, according to a new report.

There's been a similar lack of discipline against doctors across the country, according to the consumer group Public Citizen, which contrasted the number of medical board actions with those by hospitals as reported in a national data bank.

In Minnesota, 151 physicians had one or more actions to restrict or revoke their clinical privileges between September 1990 and December 2009, according to the Public Citizen report, released Tuesday. The state's medical board took action against 77 of those doctors, or about 51 percent of the total.

In one case, a Minnesota physician had 12 clinical privilege reports but no state licensure reports, the consumer group said.

"Either state medical boards are receiving this disturbing information from hospitals but not acting on it, or much less likely, they are not receiving the information at all," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group, said in a statement.

Robert Leach, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, said the gap in numbers doesn't necessarily mean physicians are escaping needed discipline.

Doctors sometimes lose hospital privileges because of problems with a physical or chemical impairment, Leach said. In Minnesota, these physicians can enroll in a confidential rehabilitation and treatment program that can help them return to safe practice, he said, without disciplinary action.

In other cases, hospitals might require that a physician stop practicing because the doctor has demonstrated a lack of knowledge in a particular aspect of medical practice. The facility will require that the doctor undergo remediation as part of a corrective action agreement that the medical board knows about, Leach said, but this action stops short of discipline.

Finally, hospitals may not report actions against physician privileges to the medical board even though they're supposed to, Leach said.

"We've always been skeptical that we're getting full disclosure from facilities that take action on their physicians' privileges," Leach said, adding that he's not sure whether this possible failure results in doctors escaping discipline.

The Public Citizen analysis was based on reports to the National Practitioner Data Bank. The medical board does not check the data bank routinely to learn about actions by hospitals against doctors because "it costs us money to access the data," Leach said.

"We wouldn't have the resources to check all of our doctors," he said.