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News Story
Updated: 10/30/2013 08:00:03AM

Investigations of medical pros taking too long

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To all of us who literally put our lives in the hands of a medical professional — be it a physician, a medical assistant or an anesthesiologist — it might be alarming, to learn that person has had their license revoked.

In Florida, according to a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, it can take up to two years or more for a report to be filed on a physician or medical practitioner after a claim of misconduct or failing to perform their duties in a correct manner.

Patients are putting their trust in doctors who may or may not be a candidate for disciplinary actions from the state Board of Medicine. Patients have no way of knowing of a complaint filed with the state by someone who believes the physician — or physician’s assistant or anesthesiologist — is guilty of misconduct or even malpractice.

The report outlines how dozens, even hundreds, of medical professionals continue to practice while they are under investigation. They might see thousands of patients while the short-handed Florida Department of Health looks into claims made by patients.

According to the report, between 2010 and 2012, it took an average of 434 days to resolve charges against medical professionals in the Sunshine State.

That is not good, especially compared to other large states like Texas, where investigations averaged 282 days and California, where 264 days was the average length of time to resolve a complaint.

Decreased funding for the state’s health department is where the blame is being placed. The state health department suffered a $55.6 million budget cut in 2011. Those cuts have resulted in huge caseloads for investigators.

Special interests are also a hindrance to investigations. According to the report, medical professionals can get help in their defense from the Professionals Resource Network, which was awarded a $5.4 million contract with the Department of Health to assist medical professionals who have emotional health issues, including addictions or mental disorders. That contract was renewed this year for even more — $7.4 million.

Between 2010 and 2012, disciplinary actions resulted in 55 licenses being suspended, 30 revoked and 88 cases of voluntary surrender of a license to practice medicine.

Now, to be fair, many of these complaints that take too long to investigate can be minor. And, the state has the ability to move more quickly if the situation “poses a public hazard.”

Still, according to records, the state has taken up to a year to resolve these “emergency” complaints.

Is this something we all should be concerned about?

We think so. But, the huge majority of medical professionals are trustworthy, in tune with developments in their field and reliable.

It is the few who take chances, who may have issues that impact their performance, that make investigations and discipline necessary.

We must speed up the process.

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