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D.C. Board Rarely Punishes Physicians

In 2000, Maryland's medical board ordered Frank A. Broner's medical and surgical practice to be monitored for a year after a female patient died from a lack of oxygen during surgery, board records show. Broner is an orthopedic surgeon licensed in Maryland and the District.

"It was a terrible experience," said Broner, blaming the incident on an anesthesiologist he claimed was under the influence of drugs. "It was almost impossible to come back from that."

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)

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The D.C. board let the matter go without taking action, he said. "I work exclusively in D.C. now," Broner said.

Michael J. Horan, an internist licensed to practice in the District and Maryland, saw his Maryland license revoked in 2001 after pleading guilty in Montgomery County to one count of obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud or deceit, Maryland board records show. He was sentenced to one year of probation and 40 hours of community service. The state restored his license in 2002.

Although the D.C. board threatened to take action against him, it never did, he said.

"D.C. got in touch with me and told me what they were going to do," he said. "But by the time they caught up with me, Maryland had restored my license."

District obstetrician-gynecologist Harold D. Johnson was reprimanded and fined $10,000 by the Maryland board in 2000 for allowing his nurse to examine and evaluate obstetrical patients while he was away. But the D.C. board took no action concerning his license, he said.

Augustus H. Hill, a general surgeon, was reprimanded in 2003 in Maryland for making medical mistakes and prescribing an "excessive dosage" of medication to a patient, according to board records. The Virginia medical board learned of the Maryland action and reprimanded him in 2004. The D.C. board notified Hill in November that he could be punished and had a right to a hearing, but nothing more has been done, Granger said.

"They've written me and told me they were going to take action, but they haven't," Hill said.

D.C. Action Not Publicized

Seven of the 11 members of the D.C. medical board are required to be physicians licensed to practice in the city. They are appointed by the mayor; in some cases, they have been reappointed for several terms.

Critics say that the physician-dominated board -- like others across the country -- is reluctant to discipline colleagues. The doctors close ranks and "tend to err on the side of the physician rather than the patient," said Sharon Baskerville, executive director of the D.C. Primary Care Association, a nonprofit health care reform and advocacy group.

Patients have no easy way of checking out the history of doctors in the District. Maryland, Virginia and nearly every other state have detailed Web sites where patients can learn about a doctor's disciplinary history. When someone searches for a doctor on the District's Web site, there is little information except whether a license is active or not. There are no case details or information on whether a doctor has been sued for malpractice.

Feseha Woldu, who oversees the District's licensing for doctors and other health care professionals, said the city has been working since 2002 to put doctor disciplinary action online. It may be another year before it is accessible, he said, adding that "we're moving forward on that."

Woldu and other board officials blamed the District's administrative problems on a lack of staff and funds. When the board became part of the health department in 1997, its staff was cut from six to three and board member stipends were eliminated because "the District said they needed the money," said Warren J. Strudwick, a surgeon and former board chairman who was appointed by Mayor Marion Barry and who served until 1996.

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