Editorial: Is Medical Board protecting patients?

  • Updated: March 25, 2012 - 6:03 PM

Legislative Auditor should seek answers.

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Robert Leach, executive director of the state medical board, said people would be confused if malpractice awards were posted with no context.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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A revealing Star Tribune series recently raised serious questions about whether the state Board of Medical Practice is doing all it can to protect the public from doctors whose mistakes harm patients.

A rigorous, independent evaluation of the board's operations is needed, and the best organization for the job is right here in Minnesota -- the state's respected Office of the Legislative Auditor.

Republican State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer and DFL State Sen. Terri Bonoff have moved quickly to tackle the disturbing questions raised by the February series. Reporters found that the board, responsible for oversight of the state's doctors, had not disciplined a majority of the 74 physicians whose privileges were revoked or suspended by medical centers or clinics in the past decade.

The stories also showed that Minnesota lags many other states in making information available to consumers who want to check on their doctor's competency.

Legislators are working to improve transparency. But a deep review is also needed to determine if the board's practices best serve the public. A key issue: whether the board's policy of emphasizing corrective action over discipline -- a philosophy that differs from many other states -- is the right approach.

Kiffmeyer and Bonoff are smartly calling for the involvement of auditor Jim Nobles, whose office is held in high regard for its thorough and independent evaluations spanning a range of issues. Nobles' office also has the legal authority needed to gather information and records.

A review by the Federation of State Medical Boards -- proposed by a physician at a legislative hearing -- is another option. While the federation is a fine organization, having one medical oversight group investigate a similar group would raise unnecessary doubts about its conclusions.

"I want a valid study, free and clear of any biases or any allegiances or conflicts. Otherwise, the study would be meaningless,'' said Susan Zwaschka, a Minnesota woman who asked the Medical Board nearly two years ago to investigate the care and treatment she and five other women received from a local dermatologist.

So far, the board has not interviewed her.

Lawmakers are far along in choosing the upcoming programs the legislative auditor will evaluate. This is a late but worthy entry.

Safeguarding Minnesotans who seek medical care is of the highest priority.

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