For years, I have tried to interest journalists in the machinations of state medical boards, but all we ever see in the media are notices of doctors sanctioned by state boards. Unfortunately, when journalists report only on sanctioned physicians, the public has little understanding of how medical boards really function.
So, I am delighted to see Scott Jensen go after the Minnesota Board of Medicine (MNBOMP) for singling him out time and again on issues that really have no basis in documented damage to patients. Instead, the MNBOMP is interested in squelching any disagreement with its notion of good health care policy. Moreover, the MNBOMP is willing to try to take a physician’s license to prevent physicians from questioning health care policy.
All of this interest in the damage done to physicians by questionable state medical board actions needs exposure. At last, it appears this problem is gaining attention in the media. However, besides the damage done to physicians by inappropriate medical board actions against physicians, there is another side to this damage—a side I consider responsible for even greater harm: the damage done to patients when they lose their doctor.
State medical boards are vested in protecting patients from direct harm caused by physicians. Yet, no one is looking at the damage done to patients caused by removing good doctors from practice, often for political reasons. For this reason, the public is left with the erroneous impression that state medical boards exist primarily to protect the public from bad doctors.
It’s time there was some transparency in how medical boards function.
This is not to say that there should be no doctors removed from practice. However, medical boards err in punishing doctors who don’t need to be penalized and fail to sanction doctors who should be sanctioned. In my experience, these actions are seldom random. Independent doctors who have no representation on medical boards are often severely punished for minor issues that show no evidence of documented harm to patients. The corporate medical clinics want these doctors gone. The underlying goal is to eliminate competition for patients. Worst of all, this is all done in secret, without genuine due process, and without any accountability to anybody, even the states that created the boards.
In one case, a physician took the actions of the North Dakota medical board to the state supreme court. The court’s decision was that the state courts had no real jurisdiction over administrative law judge decisions. The real question then becomes why states create boards over which the state provides no protection to the physicians or the patients harmed by the boards these legislatures create.
It’s time to publicly acknowledge that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The public is often harmed by the medical boards charged with protecting them. This harm is seldom recognized because the boards act in secret and are free from any consequences for their actions.
Currently, there is no effective oversight of medical boards in North Dakota, and I suspect in many other states as well. The state medical board’s mission is to protect patients from dangerous physicians, but nobody documents the damage these boards do to patients as a result of their decisions. Defining and overseeing medical board activity is a function of state legislatures. When state legislatures write the laws creating medical boards, they should be held responsible for also providing some form of oversight—and protection—for the physicians that medical boards target.
In truth, no one is watching the real damage many of these medical board decisions do to patients. Damage to the public in terms of diminished access to health care, increased illness, and even death is currently not considered in medical board decisions to remove physicians from practice. It’s time medical boards are held accountable not just for the damage they do to physicians but also for the damage they do to the patients left behind when a physician is removed from practice. It’s time states require some sort of tabulation of the damage done to patients with the loss of a physician, especially in rural areas.
I suspect the damage to patients is far greater than anyone cares to acknowledge. The impact on patients goes beyond the immediate loss of their trusted health care provider. It can lead to reduced access to health care, increased instances of illness, and even potential fatalities. The repercussions of removing physicians from practice should be taken into account when making medical board decisions.
It’s crucial that medical boards are held accountable not only for the harm inflicted upon physicians but also for the collateral damage to patients left in the wake of a physician’s removal. This accountability should extend to the assessment and documentation of the adverse effects experienced by patients, particularly in rural areas where access to health care is already limited.
The magnitude of the harm suffered by patients is likely underestimated and deserves greater attention. By shedding light on the true consequences of medical board decisions, we can strive for improved oversight and regulations. It’s time to recognize the necessity of protecting both physicians and patients from the unintended consequences of these boards’ actions.
The media’s focus solely on sanctioned physicians fails to provide a comprehensive understanding of how medical boards function. By highlighting cases like Scott Jensen’s challenge against the Minnesota Board of Medicine, we can bring attention to the broader issues at play. We must promote transparency, accountability, and a balanced approach that safeguards the interests of both physicians and patients. Only then can we ensure that medical boards fulfill their intended purpose of promoting public health while minimizing unintended harm.
Alan Lindemann is an obstetrics-gynecology physician and can be reached at LindemannMD.com, doctales, and Pregnancy Your Way. Follow him on YouTube, Twitter @RuralDocAlan, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram @ruraldocalan, and Substack. He is the author of Pregnancy Your Way: Choose a Safe and Happy Birth.