There are significant differences between the administrative, or regulatory, actions of a state medical board and the legal proceedings of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In general, state medical board actions are taken only after a formal complaint regarding the actions of a physician is received. The complaint is then investigated and, if sufficient evidence is found to support the validity of the complaint, a formal hearing before the board may be ordered. After hearing relevant testimony from the physician and evaluating any supporting evidence, the medical board may take any of several actions.
Medical Board Action
First of all, the board may find that the original complaint is unsupported by the available evidence and no action is taken against the physician. The board may also find that the complaint is valid, but that the best course of action may be to formally reprimand the physician. Such actions are usually referred to as sanctions.
In cases where the issues raised in the complaint can be remedied by close supervision of the physician by another physician, the offending physician’s license may be temporarily modified to require such supervision.
Protecting the Patient’s Rights
Finally, in cases where the state medical board determines that allowing the physician to continue practicing medicine would constitute a danger to the welfare of his or her patients, the board may either suspend the physician’s medical license for a set period of time or even revoke his or her license to practice medicine indefinitely. Thus, the primary function of the state medical board is the protection of the public by enforcing certain standards of care by all physicians.
Medical Malpractice Claims
A medical malpractice lawsuit is a civil procedure whose functions are to:
- Determine whether or not an act of malpractice has occurred
- Determine the amount of compensation (damages) that are to be awarded to the plaintiff (the injured party)
The findings of a medical malpractice lawsuit, or even a series of such lawsuits, generally have no bearing on whether or not a physician is allowed to practice medicine in a given state for several reasons, which are detailed below:
- Any person can file a lawsuit alleging malpractice even if such malpractice is not later proven in court
- Many malpractice lawsuits are settled out of court by the physician’s malpractice insurance carrier as a matter of economy without an admission or a denial of responsibility by the physician
In summary, actions taken against a physician by state medical boards are the result of a formal process of complaint, investigation, and hearing. Although a sanction taken by the state medical boards against a physician does indicate that some violation of the state’s medical practice act has occurred, malpractice claims themselves are not always accurate measures of a physician’s competence or violation of the law.