How do you know that your doctor can provide you with effective treatment? It isn't just the framed diplomas hanging on the wall of his or her office that inform you—it's also the license granted to the doctor by the state. This license affirms that a doctor has received the appropriate professional certifications, has a clean record, and is officially sanctioned to practice medicine within a state. That should be as far as the story goes, but medical licensing occurs on a state by state basis, and a physician licensed to practice in one state may have previously held and surrendered a license in another area following accusations of malpractice.
Surrendering a license is different than losing it. When a doctor loses his or her license, a state medical board holds an official hearing, considers evidence, and punitively revokes the license. When a doctor wishes to avoid the expense or exposure of such a hearing, he or she may instead opt to voluntarily give up the license to practice. The process is comparable to an employee given the opportunity to resign to avoid being fired.
A report by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and USA Today highlighted several troubling cases. Initially licensed in the state of Louisiana, Larry Isaacs surrendered his right to practice in the state following a botched surgery. He then moved to California, was re-licensed, and botched another procedure. Fleeing the results of that incident, he tried his luck in New York before finally settling in Ohio—and continued to practice. In another case, a cardiologist continued practicing in New York after surrendering licenses in two other states following criminal charges of sexual misconduct.
This is the type of information that would appear on a background check, such as backgroundchecks.com's US OneSEARCH, yet some states do not take any action to revoke licenses. These stories depict an ongoing challenge in the healthcare industry: balancing the need to protect patients with the challenge of providing oversight to doctors crossing state lines.
Some state licensing authorities monitor information made available to them from other states to avoid problems such as those with Dr. Isaacs. A surrender in one state will sometimes bar a practitioner from work in other states. This is by no means a guarantee, however, and a patchwork system of state databases and record reporting requirements further complicate a patient's ability to trust the doctor they've chosen to administer their care.
Not every physician surrendering a license can be presumed to be guilty of malpractice, of course; the issue at the heart of this story is transparency and a patient's right to know. Lack of transparency in state medical systems makes it much harder for patients to make informed choices about their care.
In its conclusion, USA Today's report suggested that individuals should take a greater role in verifying their own care providers in view of the lack of coordination in state-to-state oversight. backgroundchecks.com can help through professional license verification services.
Developed by making direct contact with the appropriate state licensing agencies, this service can empower patients to gain greater insight into a care provider's professional history. As long as patchwork policies continue to allow doctors to easily become re-licensed after making major medical or professional mistakes, the old saying "trust but verify" should be every patient's guiding principle.