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Connecticut doctor discipline delayed

According to the watchdog group Public Citizen, over the last decade, Connecticut has time and again ranked in the bottom fifth of states in the rate of grave disciplinary actions taken against doctors.Additionally, Connecticut is one of the only states where the state Medical Examining Board does not have its own investigation unit, but rather relies on the Department of Public Health (DPH) to conduct investigations.

Recent cases arbitrated by the board after a considerable delay include a physician charging thousands of dollars for treating a cancer patient with alleged useless natural remedies, sending a patient home from surgery with a severed spleen, improperly accessing patient records, and prescribing high doses of strong medicine over the phone and without justification.

Under Connecticut's system, the DPH is in charge of investigating medical negligence complaints against doctors. The DPH investigates cases by seeking expert opinions from physicians with the same specialty, obtaining records, and interviewing witnesses. In many cases, the DPH will not take action until it has gotten a physician reviewer. DPH investigators talk with attorneys to draw up charges. In some cases, the department tries to settle with the physician; in others, the case goes to an inquiry before a three-person panel, which makes a recommendation.

According to a Connecticut DPH consumer guide, the standard length of an inquiry is six months. However, the investigation itself is only one part of the disciplinary process and is not a sign of the length of time between the reporting of an incident and the board's final decision.

A review of disciplinary decisions in the past 18 months shows that the medical board hardly ever acts within a year of an incident -- and sometimes the process takes as long as four years, with doctors still practicing freely in the meantime.

Explanations for the delays differ. In some instances, it takes time for the DPH to prepare charges against doctors, allow for responses and schedule hearings. In other situations, there is a delay between the alleged lapse in care and a complaint to the DPH that starts an investigation.

In each state, doctors are supposed to abide and follow what is known as the "standard of care." If at any time, a doctor does not follow that standard, they can be found negligent. Failing to implement the standard of care is called medical negligence or medical malpractice. If someone feels that he or she has been a victim of medical malpractice or a misdiagnosis, a legal professional should be contacted, and then coordinate a detailed investigation, recommending the best course of legal action to take.

Source: The Hartford Courant, "Delays Hamper State's Doctor Discipline Process" Colleen McKown and Lisa Chedekel, Jul. 06, 2013

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