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New regulations are aimed at protecting patients from negligent doctors

An article in Forbes Magazine revealed that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. The most common type of medical malpractice, according to Advisory Board Consultants, is missed diagnosis. In adults, cancer and heart attacks are the most common missed diagnosis while, in children, the most common missed diagnoses were related to meningitis and cancer. A significant number of medical malpractice claims result from drug errors which would include prescribing the wrong medication, prescribing the wrong dose or negligently overmedicating patients.

A consumer advocacy organization known as Public Citizen ranked Michigan 39th among states and the District of Columbia (12th from the bottom) regarding the rate of serious disciplinary actions brought against physicians. Serious disciplinary actions were defined as being license revocations or surrenders of medical licenses to practice. Suspensions of licenses and probation — with restrictions on practicing medicine — are also deemed "serious" disciplinary actions. The ranking was based upon data released by the Federation of State Medical Boards. The conclusion drawn from examining the data is that most medical boards charged with disciplining doctors "perform poorly" in protecting and safeguarding the public health. A USA Today story highlighted the fact that many doctors continue to practice despite a record of negligent medical errors, putting patients at risk.

In Michigan, the Board of Medicine has the duty to promote and protect the public's health, safety and welfare. The Board sets standards for licensing physicians and requires continuing medical education during licensure. Importantly, the Board has the obligation to investigate alleged acts of negligence by a physician. The Board can take disciplinary action against physicians whom it finds to have endangered patient safety. Although the Board is under an obligation to investigate and discipline doctors posing a threat to the safety of patients, questions as to the effectiveness of the Board recently prompted legislative action.

New regulations

Crain's Detroit Business reports that new state regulations, which take effect on July 1, are designed to strengthen the disciplinary procedures of health licensing boards including the Board of Medicine. For example, the rules preclude the chair of the Michigan Board of Medicine — and other health licensing boards — from unilaterally terminating investigations of Michigan physicians and other health care professionals. According to Crain's, the legislation resulted from findings that a former chair of the Board of Medicine unilaterally terminated two investigations into a certain doctor he was acquainted with and whose practice was ultimately shut down for multiple violations of the public health codes.

Additionally, the new regulations provide that a member of a disciplinary subcommittee must refrain from making a decision with regard to a physician being investigated if he or she has a conflict of interest. For example, a Board of Medicine member cannot participate in an investigation of a Michigan doctor if he or she has a personal or financial interest in the outcome of the investigation. Further, Board members must refrain from making decisions if they had a past or present business or professional relationship with someone under investigation.

Seeking compensation

Each year, many patients suffer injuries, or die, due to negligent acts or omissions of physicians. Michigan law affords victims of medical malpractice the right to seek compensation for their injuries. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice, you should consult with an attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice claims. The lawyers at Goethel Engelhardt, PLLC, have been strong voices for justice for victims of medical malpractice, with over 40 years' collective experience prosecuting negligent doctors and hospitals. Do not allow injuries caused by medical malpractice go uncompensated.