Doctors are human beings and make mistakes like anyone else. Unfortunately, in other professions, mistakes are not as likely to result in death. Most hospitals do their best to turn serious mistakes into educational experiences for everyone through conferences, which highlight mistakes in patient management. However those who have lost a loved one from a physician’s mistake may find little comfort in that fact. The Journal of Patient Safety estimates that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients who enter the hospital each year suffer some type of preventable harm that ultimately leads to their death. (The reluctance of providers to report mistakes makes arriving at an exact number nearly impossible). In fact, preventable medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in America, following heart disease and cancer.
But what about doctors who don’t just make one fatal mistake, going on to learn from that mistake and becoming a more vigilant doctor? What about doctors who make one mistake after another, costing lives and changing families forever? A Texas doctor, Dr. Greggory Phillips, is one such doctor. In 2011, Dr. Phillips appeared before the Texas Medical Board to defend charges of prescribing a mix of thyroid medication, muscle relaxants, anti-anxiety drugs and oxycodone, causing the death of Jennifer Chaney.
This was hardly Dr. Phillips’ first mistake. Throughout a decade Dr. Phillips had been fined thousands of dollars, had his prescription powers restricted, his medical license placed on probation, and was ordered to have special monitoring over his practice–yet he was allowed to continue practicing medicine. Texas is not the exception to the rule. Across the nation, medical boards continue to allow physicians to practice medicine even after findings of serious misconduct. In many cases, these dangerous doctors may have been barred by hospitals or paid millions to resolve malpractice claims, yet their medical licenses remain intact. Shockingly, nearly 250 doctors who were deemed an “immediate threat to health and safety,” were nonetheless allowed to retain their medical license.
In the state of Florida, one doctor made payments of more than $1.1 million dollars to resolve six malpractice claims, and in 2004 had his hospital privileges suspended due to misconduct which posed a threat to health and safety–yet kept a clean medical license. Florida does spend over $200,000 each year to have the National Practitioner Data Bank monitor physician licenses so the board is automatically alerted when malpractice cases or other problems are reported, though many consider this effort minimal.
The most common types of medical malpractice errors include the following:
Whatever the error, when a fatality occurs, lives are changed forever, and the families of the deceased have a right to expect the doctor will not be allowed to make the same mistake again. Greater oversight for the medical profession may be the goal if bad doctors are to be stopped from continuing to practice medicine.