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Is Physician Discipline by the State Working in Florida?

By Peter Gulden on December 6, 2017

A recent article in the South Florida Sun Sentinel has shed new light on the inner workings of Florida’s physician discipline system and presented an important question for Florida’s patients: Is this system functioning properly?

The article begins with a case that illustrates one of the recurring problems encountered in the state’s efforts to make care safer: nine years ago, Florida health inspectors concluded that a plastic surgeon misperformed a surgery so badly that he shouldn’t be permitted to perform surgery ever again. Only last year, however, the Florida Board of Medicine finally decided to revoke his medical license, after he had injured several other patients.

He is still able to practice today because an appeal is pending.

You can search Florida’s database of physician disciplinary actions maintained by the Department of Health here. They include:

  • A physician who didn’t biopsy his patients, yet diagnosed them with prostate cancer.
  • A physician who failed to notice his patient’s heart failure until his patient died of it.
  • A physician who, instead of treating his patients, asked them to send him nude photos.

To date, 413 administrative complaints have been filed for 2017. And these cases just include complaints against medical doctors.

There are many more examples of healthcare providers whose care fell far below the expected standard: a physician falsely diagnosing his patients with cancer to bill Medicare; a physician who keeps performing his self-declared “specialty” liposuction after seriously injuring patients; a physician who lied in court about his board certification; and an obstetrician who caused severe brain damage to several babies he was delivering. Only a few such cases, however, are fully reported on.

Historically, Florida Has a Problem with Disciplining Doctors

Florida has a backlog of nearly 400 pending cases against physicians accused of mistreating patients. On average, a medical malpractice complaint in Florida takes 434 days to resolve—almost twice what other states average. But, during this time, the healthcare provider is allowed to practice medicine on unsuspecting patients.

Last year, an investigation by Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed: “Because the state allows most doctors to keep practicing while their cases are ongoing, doctors may have an incentive to drag them out as long as possible. Evidence gets outdated. Patients who filed complaints die. Memories fade.”

What Happens When a Complaint Is Filed?

Any complaints about healthcare providers in Florida are submitted to the Florida Department of Health, which opens an investigation, updating the Florida Board of Medicine if action is taken against the doctor’s license. (Complaints about hospitals or assisted living facilities go to the Agency for Health Care Administration.) You cannot complain about fee or billing disputes, or the “rudeness of practitioners.”

According to the Board of Medicine, “If the practitioner is found to have violated the law, the department or regulatory board may issue a citation or impose one or more of the following penalties:

  • letter of guidance
  • reprimand
  • fine
  • restriction of practice
  • continuing education probation
  • license suspension
  • license revocation”

However, the state of Florida’s complaint process is often ineffective at actually finding violations of the standard of care. Under the law, doctors have “three strikes” before losing their licenses. But, since the Board of Medicine demands a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence” instead of the civil standard of “preponderance of the weight of the evidence,” relatively few doctors actually lose their licenses.

The Board of Medicine Does NOT Provide Compensation to Malpractice Victims for the Injuries They Suffer

Even if a doctor has ten complaints filed against him and the state revokes his license, that only protects future patients. Victims of the physician’s malpractice get nothing from an administrative review, even if the complaints are verified.

At Faiella & Gulden, P.A., we’ve been advancing the rights of victims of medical malpractice for over thirty years. We have the background to understand the most complex medical and legal issues and to try these cases to verdict.

For a free consultation about your case, please call us at (407) 647-6111.

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