Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer asked members of his staff and state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran yesterday to come up with specific measures to strengthen the state's system of disciplining physicians.
Charles Benton, Schaefer's budget chief, was asked to determine the cost of hiring more staff to investigate complaints against doctors and bring action against them in disciplinary hearings, according to Schaefer aides.
"The current operations of the medical discipline process are in great need of review and, in some instances, revitalization or change," said Alan Rifkin, the governor's chief legislative aide.
He said Schaefer is convinced the current system is fraught with delay and needs administrative overhaul.
"He obviously recognizes the serious public safety issue," said Jane Nishita, Schaefer's legislative aide on health issues.
Schaefer directed his staff last month to begin work on legislation and regulations to beef up physician discipline.
Aides said yesterday that the governor mentioned his concern about some of the weaknesses in the disciplinary system outlined in a series of articles in The Washington Post this week.
The series noted that physicians in Maryland rarely lose their licenses, even when they are convicted of crimes or found to be incompetent.
Among the problems cited were the absence of mandated penalties for violations of the law, the state Commission on Medical Discipline's lack of staff, including investigators and lawyers, a reliance on volunteer help from the state medical society investigating complaints, and months or years of delays in resolving cases.
"We're trying to decide how to unjam those areas, whether with legislation, regulatory change or money," said Schaefer health policy adviser Linda Crawford. "We have not made any decisions except the commitment to do something. We don't want to react; we want to correct."
Crawford said the governor's office is still "absolutely recognizing a role for physicians at Med-Chi," as the state medical society, the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, is called. She said no decision had been reached on whether to reconfigure the structure of the commission or its membership. A majority of members are nominated or chosen by the Med-Chi.
She and others at the meeting said there was no discussion yesterday of an earlier administration idea of setting up a "superboard" over the Commission on Medical Discipline and the state Board of Medical Examiners. The notion behind the superboard plan was to make the two boards more accountable to the governor.
Administration aides are scheduled to meet Monday to work out details of the Schaefer administration proposal.