William Pagan

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How bad doctors stay in business

The news for patients these days is both good and bad when it comes to the quality of the doctors available to treat them.

The good news is that only a small percentage of doctors are responsible for the vast majority of medical malpractice claims. They’re basically the rotten apples in the barrel. The bad news, however, is that it is incredibly hard to weed those “rotten apples” out of the medical profession altogether.

According to recent studies, only 6% of physicians were successfully sued for malpractice over a 10-year span. An extremely small group — 2% — account for a whopping 39% of all paid malpractice claims.

Ideally, the number of malpractice claims a physician has should be a red flag to the state medical boards, indicating that the physician needs an intervention — if not outright restrictions on his or her ability to practice. In reality, that doesn’t often happen. While some troubled physicians do leave the medical field altogether, around 90% of doctors with five or more malpractice claims against them are actually still working.

While some bad doctors skirt the regulations designed to keep them in check by moving from state to state and hoping their pasts don’t catch up with them, that isn’t the only way that physicians with problematic behaviors manage to stay in practice. Some will find work in places that are simply desperate to keep a doctor on staff — like urgent care centers in certain areas — even if that doctor’s skills are questionable.

Other bad doctors move into independent practices where they can, presumably, hide their mistakes from their peers (and patients) a little better. Since anybody can set up a solo practice without worrying about an employer checking their malpractice history, that leaves patients without any screening device to ensure they receive quality care.

If you’ve been injured by a negligent doctor, you probably aren’t the first person that doctor has injured. The only real way patients can hold those kinds of physicians accountable is to demand the compensation they are due — and hope it drives bad doctors out of business for good.