Physician criminal checks a waste

LETTER — Posted Jan. 24, 2005

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Regarding "Criminal checks increasingly a fact of life for physicians" (Article, Dec. 20, 2004): There will always be bad apples (an old adage declares) but has requiring criminal screens and fingerprinting to thousands of physicians nationwide made any difference?

If at least 19 states think so, then show us some proof.

Physicians are coerced to employ only medically proven, outcome-based treatment regimens. As such, are there any outcome studies to show a statistical benefit by the pre-investigation of imagined criminal physicians? What, specifically, has society gained?

Criminal checks are claimed to be a deterrent. If this is true, then why are there medical boards that "don't judge an applicant on criminal history alone"? Could a criminal practice medicine in lenient states? California (the longest existing criminal check state) issues about 5,000 licenses yearly but rejects only "fewer than a dozen" applicants. Even in those few, there are some with only "disclosure" problems -- whatever that means. All those checks produce an accuracy rate of less than 0.25%. Any medical test with such a low sensitivity and specificity is completely useless.

So what are the costs and the benefits for general public? Answer: enormous and scant, respectively. If a pseudo-security bureaucracy empowered by increased revenues from a frightened public and licensing fees from hapless applicants is the definition of, "Regardless of the time it takes ... the effort is worth it," then the public should see a worthwhile outcome. Instead, all we get is a glorified but rare bad apple for all that labor and expense.

Ted Yaeger, MD, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/01/24/edlt0124.htm.

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