D.C. Council Hearing Planned on Oversight of Doctors
By Cheryl W. Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page B01
D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) has scheduled a hearing next month to consider the performance of the Board of Medicine and its oversight of the city's doctors.
Catania's office received numerous calls this week from citizens concerned about the accountability of the board that licenses and investigates physicians, said spokesman Ross Weber. Catania took over as chairman of the council's Committee on Health in January.
• SUNDAY: Doctors with substance abuse problems are allowed to keep practicing, often despite relapses, and medical boards rarely revoke licenses.
• 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.
• 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.
"I can't have a Board of Medicine that protects doctors more than it does the public, and that's what it appears to be doing," Catania said in an interview. "If our Board of Medicine is doing such an uninspiring job of policing doctors, there's no wonder why our malpractice insurance premium is so high."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also expressed concern yesterday about the performance of the board and said he is "dedicated to fixing it."
"There was some indication already that more needs to be done," Williams said. "But the more that needs to be done is clearly much more than I thought. And we're going to work on it."
In a statement issued later by his office, Williams noted that the board had made "significant improvements" in licensing and said its record of disciplinary action is improving.
Catania said the hearing, which is scheduled for May 11, was prompted by a series of Washington Post articles this week that reported that the District's medical board rarely disciplines troubled doctors. A doctor in Maryland or Virginia is about twice as likely to be punished as is one in the District.
The examination found more than a dozen doctors with D.C. licenses who went unpunished by the medical board although they were disciplined in Maryland or Virginia for sexual misconduct, criminal convictions or questionable medical care.
"The public needs to have some confidence in physicians," Catania said.
Officials with the D.C. medical board say they are hampered by a lack of staff and funds. The board has two investigators to monitor more than 45,000 health care licensees and shares those investigators with more than 20 other D.C. boards and commissions.
Catania, who said he is proposing more funding for the Health Department in next year's budget, said a shortage of resources is no excuse for the board's failure to go after bad doctors.
"You can explain away the problem only so much with a lack of staff," he said. "They chose to do the improper things."
Members of the medical board and the Health Department are expected to testify at next month's hearing, Catania said. The session, which will be open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. in the main council chambers at the John A. Wilson Building.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.