Health Care News & Discussion
When Doctors are the Problem
01/04/1998 2:05 PM
Parade Magazine has a cover story, “Why some doctors may be hazardous to your health.” It stated that when Dr Ted Lewers, a kidney specialist in Easton, Maryland, was asked how many of the nation’s 650,000 doctors could be categorized as incompetent, unscrupulous or impaired, he estimated “Very few – 5-10%.” That would suggest that up to 65,000 physicians could pose a significant risk to you. Unfortunately, that’s not a “a few.”
In an attempt to identify bad doctors, physicians have set up a “peer review system.” This means that doctors in a given field review the work of doctors in the same field by inspecting patients’ medical charts. Peer review determined that many doctors were giving inferior care. Many lost their hospital privileges and were reported to the medical board and to a computerized information service. Everyone thought the system was working and that the bad doctors were being removed.
But then some researchers decided to check on these so-called “bad docs” to evaluate what they did wrong. So when they gave these same charts to specialists in another community who weren’t in competition with the doctors being reviewed, an amazing 70 percent of the so-called “bad docs” were performing satisfactorily.
The researchers then decided to review the records of the original doctors who had reviewed these so-called “bad doctors.” They found that many of the reviewing doctors were making worse errors than the alleged “bad doctors.” Some had even caused fatal injuries and were being protected by hospitals that were receiving “business,”–patient referrals–from these doctors.
At this time there is no good way to determine if your doctor is incompetent. But it behooves all of us to be cautious when medical recommendations are made that seem unusual. If in doubt, just say, “give me a few days to think this over” and then discuss if with family and friends. A little time will frequently clarify many things.