Medical Errors May Slip Through Cracks Because of COVID-19
State medical boards took a hands-off approach to doctor discipline as hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients infected physicians and nurses. From April through June, emergency actions against doctors’ licenses dropped 59% compared with the same period last year.
In April alone, license suspensions and restrictions dropped 85%, according to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). HRSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intended to improve health care for the vulnerable and support training of medical professionals.
If the pandemic prompted overwhelmed healthcare facilities to take fewer of their emergency actions against doctors, such state medical board slowdowns might be expected. However, a separate analysis of data from January through June showed only a 2% drop in emergency restrictions of clinical privileges.
Safety experts say when a hospital decides a doctor has done something so dangerous it immediately prevents them from practicing medicine there, it’s likely to be serious enough the physician shouldn’t be practicing anywhere and should lose his or her license temporarily. Patient safety advocates are worried because of the drop in emergency license suspensions. It only makes errors and complications more likely and dangerous.
Kentucky took 10 doctors’ licenses away on an emergency basis in the first six months of 2019 and none between January and June this year. New York, Indiana, Texas, Maryland, Michigan, and Kentucky drove the overall drop by noting declines between 50% and 100%.
The Federation of State Medical Boards said its data shows medical boards’ emergency and non-emergency disciplinary actions against doctors were down 14% from January through June, attributing it all to COVID-19.