For those of you who follow my column, you may have noticed that I tend to focus on things that are wrong. There is never a shortage of things to talk about in terms of what is broken with our healthcare system and why Texas is among the worst states in the nation for patient safety.
I am here to tell you a story of something that worked.
The failings of the Texas Medical Board are well known. They have consistently failed to fulfill their mission of “ensuring quality healthcare for the citizens of Texas.” Well, having practiced in the field of medical malpractice law for over three decades, I can certainly tell you we are not safe! Especially if we are relying on the Texas Medical Board to protect us from dangerous doctors.
Historically, we have been unable to rely on our Texas legislature to prioritize patient safety over protecting healthcare providers, but a recent piece of legislation that has passed both the House and Senate may prove to be an important pivotal shift.
The Texas House and Senate passed a bill designed to close a loophole which allowed dangerous doctors to go unchecked. At the time I am writing this the bill is on Gov. Abbott’s desk awaiting signature.
So, how did it happen? It began with an investigative reporter by the name of Matt Grant with KXAN in Austin. He found 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states that were still practicing in Texas. These included physicians whose licenses were suspended or revoked in other states. Yet, the Texas Medical Board was relying on the “honor system” for physician applicants to self-report prior discipline.
The KXAN investigation also revealed that the TMB did not have to rely on physician self-disclosure. They could have queried the National Practitioner Data Bank, which is a national repository of data on physicians from hospitals, medical boards and professional liability insurance carriers.
Even when the TMB found out that doctors had lied to them by falsifying their applications, the TMB may or may not pursue disciplinary action against them.
The new legislation makes lying on a medical license application a Class A misdemeanor and physicians who had their license suspended in another state will be unable to practice in Texas. The legislation also requires the medical board to regularly monitor the National Practitioner Data Bank to stay updated on physician arrests, malpractice lawsuits and other disciplinary actions.
The legislation was authored by Rep. Julie Johnson who secured bipartisan support for the bill.
This is a small, but important step in the right direction for Texas patients. Patient safety should not be a political issue. I’ll keep shouting this from the mountaintop. I hope every politician will realize that they are patients, their loved ones are patients, and their constituents are patients. I do not believe that most voters care about protecting the large and powerful healthcare industry as much as they care about their own safety.
We all deserve a system that takes patient safety seriously and is willing to protect us from physicians who should not be practicing. Plaintiffs’ lawyers like myself are there to seek justice for patients whose lives have been destroyed by preventable medical errors. However, there is so much that can be done before tragedy strikes.
Pro patient safety legislation will save lives. Regardless of your political affiliation or which side of the “v” you are on, I think we are all on the same page with this one.