Texas medical board vows to speed up process

Some physicians say the board is spending too much time investigating issues that don't deal directly with patient care.

By Damon Adams — Posted Nov. 26, 2007

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Texas Medical Board leaders hope to have a new process next year to handle minor violations that some physicians complain cost them too much time and money to resolve.

If the plan is approved by the board after hearings, violations such as failure to release medical records would be handled in a streamlined process, likely within 30 to 60 days.

Minor infractions would be managed without full-scale investigations, and physicians in those cases would not have their names listed in a board newsletter.

"It's going to save us time so we can spend our assets on standard-of-care cases," said board Executive Director Donald W. Patrick, MD.

Board officials discussed the proposal during a state House appropriations subcommittee hearing on Oct. 23 in Austin, Texas. The special meeting attracted physicians who criticized the board for making them spend months and thousands of dollars to go through the investigation process for minor violations.

Board leaders said they are just doing their job. They said 7% of complaints against doctors result in board actions, a figure that has remained the same since 2003.

"If you want us not to enforce certain minor violations, then so be it. Tell us which ones we should not enforce. We are just following the letter of the law," board President Roberta Kalafut, DO, told the subcommittee.

But in recent years, the media and legislators have bashed the board for being too easy on physicians, particularly those who committed sexual offenses. In 2003, Texas passed a law that provided the board with more funding and called for speedier handling of complaints, especially cases involving sexual misconduct.

Doctors unhappy with board

During last month's packed, 11-hour subcommittee hearing, physicians slammed the board for overenforcement. They said the board unfairly allows anonymous complaints and cloaks the process in secrecy.

State Rep. Fred Brown, subcommittee chair, said physicians complained that they devoted months to the board's enforcement process over issues such as small overcharges on patients. "They were being treated so harshly over minor infractions," Brown said. "That all came to light, and we heard those stories over and over again."

Some media outlets questioned if Brown had a conflict of interest by calling the meeting because his business partner is a gynecologist who has a pending contested case with the medical board concerning standard-of-care issues. Brown, who had formed a health network with the physician, said there are no conflicts.

The Texas Medical Assn. supports a strong medical board, said A. Tomas Garcia, MD, a Houston cardiologist and member of the TMA's board of trustees. Dr. Garcia said the board should give priority to cases involving quality of care, sexual misconduct and impairment.

Brown said he was optimistic that the board would streamline its process and focus more on standard-of-care issues.

"We feel like they're moving in the right direction," he said.

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