Docs Disciplined for Reporting Negligence Concerns about Colleague
If there’s one thing that tort deformers and civil justice advocates should be able to agree upon, it is that something must be done to reduce preventable medical errors and negligent medical practice. If the rare few offending doctors were appropriately disciplined, they would not have an opportunity to create more victims of medical malpractice.
This LA Times article outlines the troubling story of a doctor who remains practicing and was only minimally disciplined, despite numerous complaints from colleagues, medical staff, and patients, and despite several troubling incidents over the last ten years. An excerpt (warning: not for the faint of heart):
Late one April night, the first of Sarah Valenzuela's twins arrived with little trouble, but the second stayed put.
Though the baby was not in distress, Kaiser Permanente perinatologist Hamid Safari attached a vacuum extractor to the boy's head to draw him out. Again and again he tugged, but still the baby would not come.
He vigorously shook the vacuum, up and down, side to side, according to government documents and hospital incident reports.
It took 90 minutes and six tries -- the last with Safari on his knees, pulling. Horrified staffers -- and the boy's father -- looked on as baby Devin finally emerged. His skin was a bloodless white, his neck elongated and floppy.
His spinal cord had been severed.
Safari lashed out at a nurse. "What did you do to that baby? I gave you a good baby," he said, according to a complaint letter the nurse sent to her union representative.
Staffers at the Fresno birthing center were devastated and angry -- and not just because of the twin lost that night in 2005.
Over the years, doctors and nurses repeatedly had complained to higher-ups -- including Kaiser's top medical officer in Northern and Central California -- about problems they saw in Safari's skills and behavior, according to interviews and documents. (Read full article)
In fact, asserting their concerns about their colleague's conduct only created conflicts on the job and a sense from the administration that the only disciplinary action that would result from such complaints would be directed at the complainants themselves, not the offending doctor. A staff memo stated that "targeting an individual practitioner is counterproductive and discourages the cooperative, harmonious and respectful work environment that the medical group expects and encourages."
Apparently this work environment is more important than patient safety and upholding the high standard of medical care that characterizes the majority of the profession. Medical professionals who complained have filed a lawsuit for what they believe is retaliation, including sanctions like reduced pay and short suspension of the complaining doctors. Meanwhile, the doctor whose actions were the focus of these complaints only had the scope of his practice limited. He remains practicing and has not received further discipline, according to the LA Times.
I can't see how a response like this will do anything but discourage medical professionals from speaking up when doing so is necessary to protect the health and safety of their patients, and the integrity of their profession. What a tragedy.