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SPECIAL TREATMENT : Disciplining Doctors

D.C. Board Rarely Punishes Physicians

By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A01

Second of three articles

For more than seven years, the D.C. Board of Medicine knew that something was amiss with Jewel A. Quinn's medical practice.

In 1997, a board investigator, acting on a patient complaint, visited Quinn's office in Northeast Washington and found an "examination table so cluttered and hidden by items that it was not visible" and a "filthy" restroom with no hot water, according to D.C. records.

Among members of the D.C. Board of Medicine are Andrea D. Sullivan, left, Ronald Simmons, James A. Towns and Lawrence A. Manning. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

SUNDAY: Doctors with substance abuse problems are allowed to keep practicing, often despite relapses, and medical boards rarely revoke licenses.
Physicians Practice Despite Abuse
Some Doctors Sent to Rehab

MONDAY: A physician in Maryland or Virginia is twice as likely to be punished as a doctor in the District, where the medical board's record of serious disciplinary action has been among the lowest in the country.
D.C. Board Rarely Punishes Doctors
Despite Deaths, D.C. License Upheld
Graphic: Medical Discipline

TUESDAY: Doctors who are disciplined often restart their careers by moving to a another state, despite a federal system meant to prevent physicians from hiding troubled pasts.

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Many state medical boards allow you to search for your doctors' standing and medical compliance history.

Washington Post staff writer Cheryl Thompson discussed her "Special Treatment" series.
Audio: The Post's Thompson

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When Quinn moved his practice to the Holiday Cab Co. offices in Southeast, the same investigator reported that he found a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff atop a desk littered with empty juice and milk containers. Boxes overflowing with garbage sat nearby. Soiled and wrinkled tissue paper covered an exam table. There was no phone, and Quinn could not produce patient records upon request.

But until last year, the District's medical board did not stop him from practicing.

For troubled doctors, the District is a forgiving place. A physician in Maryland or Virginia is roughly twice as likely to be disciplined as a doctor in the District, according to medical board records and statistics from the Federation of State Medical Boards for 1999 through 2004.

Records obtained by The Washington Post for that period reveal a pattern of lax discipline by the D.C. medical board:

• Twenty-six physicians with substance-abuse problems known to the board have not been disciplined, despite the fact that six lost their licenses in other states. In one instance, the board gave a license to a doctor knowing that he had "several alcohol-related arrests."

• Fourteen physicians with D.C. licenses went unpunished by the board although they were disciplined in Maryland and Virginia for criminal convictions, sexual misconduct or questionable medical care. Five have medical practices in the District, and seven have staff privileges at city hospitals.

• The board received roughly 318 complaints against physicians between 1999 and 2004 for allegations ranging from negligent medical care to sexual assault, but only four of the physicians were disciplined.

• The medical board voted to discipline more than a dozen doctors for various infractions but did not follow through on its decision.

William E. Matory, a physician and chairman of the D.C. Board of Medicine, described the board as a "well-working group" that is doing the best it can to protect patients.

"The citizens can be secure that their interests are maintained," said Matory, who is in his second term on the board and is emeritus professor of surgery at Howard University.

He said that the District disciplines so few doctors because their transgressions are often caught by hospitals or medical schools in the area long before they get to the board.

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