The head of the Maryland commission that disciplines physicians has resigned, charging that legislative efforts to revamp the controversial system "strike at its heart, and if adopted, will destroy it."
The Commission on Medical Discipline, now headed by Dr. John E. Adams, follows the rare procedure of allowing physicians in the state and local medical societies to investigate fellow doctors suspected of infractions. There is no legal requirement that the societies report their findings to the commission.
A state report on the commission contended that the situation creates "the potential for bias" and for "uneven quality of investigations." A legislation committee, charged with determining the commission's future, last November adopted major changes proposed in the report. One of those changes would require medical societies to report all complaints against doctors to the state disciplinary commission. Another would allow the commission to investigate complaints itself.
Although the proposed legislation still must pass committees of both the Senate and House of Delegates and the full legislature, Adams tendered his resignation, effective at the end of January. "Even if the legislation is defeated this year," Adams wrote in his resignation letter, "its negative effects on the relationship between the (disciplinary) system and the profession will be significant, and other attacks will follow."
The report on the commission, prepared by the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, was part of a sweeping review of of the 38 professional boards charged with licensing everyone from architects to physicians and with protecting the public from unscrupulous practices. The medical disciplinary board, with its unique procedures, is one of the most controversial of those bodies, and it has come under attack in past years.
Adams defended his commission last November before the Senate Finance Committee, which later adopted the legislative report, asserting that he personally monitors investigations by local societies to weed out bias.
He also said that 35 percent of the complaints against doctors result in disciplinary action, a rate that makes Maryland the fifth most stringent state, according to the National Federation of State Medical Examiners.
It is unclear what effect Adams' resignation will have on the proposed legislation. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) said yesterday, "I don't think his resignation will be that persuasive. Legislation should not fall or pass based on the action of one individual."
Steinberg said the proposed changes are complex and were adopted in a proposed bill to give legislators a chance to hear arguments on both sides during fuller hearings in the legislative session which opens next week.