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Trail of Tears Leads to Texas

Via Texas WatchPosted August 4, 2011
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Corpus Christi neurosurgeon Stefan Konasiewicz is on trial in Minnesota this week for medical malpractice.  Konasiewicz left a trail of medical incompetence in Minnesota that has resulted in nine medical malpractice lawsuits, some involving patient deaths, as well as a public reprimand by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.

Rather than face the music in Minnesota Konasiewicz fled to Texas where lax oversight and a broken legal system allow bad doctors to keep seeing patients, turning our state into a safe haven for dangerous doctors like Konasiewicz.

The Texas Medical Board, which is tasked with policing the medical profession, isn’t required to disclose – or even look into – cases of medical malpractice when a doctor moves from another state.  So, patients have no way of knowing what their physician’s track record is.  On top of that, if you are injured (or worse), the law is structured such that most patients and their families have no way of seeking justice through the legal system.

That’s right, Texas has a virtually impenetrable layer of legal protection that allows doctors to avoid legal accountability after a patient has been harmed.  In 2003, lawmakers enacted severe and arbitrary restrictions on the ability of patients to sue a dangerous doctor or careless hospital for medical malpractice.  This has made it practically impossible for most patients to bring a case against a dangerous physician in our courts.

Advocates have long feared that after patients lost the ability to sue a doctor for botching a surgery or otherwise negligently maiming them physicians like Dr. Konasiewicz would seek refuge in Texas.  Looks like their fears are warranted.

Our feckless medical oversight board is coupled with a broken accountability system that punishes patients instead of the few bad doctors who cause most of the harm.

The TMB doesn’t check to see if a doctor moving from another state has a track record of maiming or even killing patients.  Instead, they rely on physicians to self-report those cases.  And, what if the doctor doesn’t tell them they have a history of medical abuse?  Well, the board doesn’t know and the public is left in the dark.  The agency could query the National Practitioner Data Bank which compiles information about doctors – including malpractice history – from state medical boards, but they don’t.  Why not?  Here’s how the folks at the Duluth News Tribune reported it:

Konasiewicz received his license from the Texas Medical Board in 1997 and is required to renew it every two years, [TMB spokesperson Leigh] Hopper said. She said the board is supposed to review a doctor’s malpractice and disciplinary action when it renews a license, but she couldn’t say if that happened with Konasiewicz.

“It’s actually possible that the board doesn’t know about all the medical malpractice cases in another state,” she said.

All state medical boards have full access to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which lists malpractice cases and disciplinary actions taken against doctors. But Hopper said that because the Data Bank charges for queries, it would cost the state of Texas too much — she estimated $160,000 a year — to check on every doctor licensed in the state.

“We might query it as part of an investigation, but it won’t be a source to start an investigation,” Hopper said.

The ultimate responsibility of disclosing malpractice cases is on the doctor, Hopper said.

“If the doctor doesn’t want to tell us and is not truthful when he renews his license, then we’re not going to find out about it, either,” she said.

Evidently, the safety of Texas patients is worth something less than $160,000.

Even though officials at the TMB are now aware of Konasiewicz’s dangerous track record, they have taken no action to strip, suspend, or even restrict his license to practice here.  However, officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin have acted to restrict his license.

So, doctors with a history of harm – like Stefan Konasiewicz – get a two-fer in Texas: (1) they get to erase the harm they’ve caused in the past because of lax oversight, and (2) they avoid accountability for harm they cause in the future.  If you are a doctor with a penchant for committing malpractice, wouldn’t you move to Texas too?

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