MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin doctors who make serious mistakes often escape serious consequences, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday.
The newspaper said it reviewed all 218 cases leading to discipline by the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board from 2010 to 2012, along with dozens of cases in which the board didn't take action. More than half of the doctors disciplined received just reprimands. And in at least 50 cases involving reprimands, patients died or were harmed, the newspaper reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/WGtqQs ).
Medical board leaders told the newspaper they prefer to rehabilitate doctors rather than punish them, especially for mistakes. But they said limited money and authority sometimes prevent the board from taking more serious disciplinary action.
"It would be nice to have revocations. It would be nice to have stronger suspensions," said the board's chairman, Dr. Sheldon Wasserman. "But that comes at a cost. We don't have the resources."
The newspaper cited the reprimand the board issued to Dr. David Almasy as typical of its findings.
Almasy used an electrified wire to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix of Nicole Johnston, a 35-year-old mother of four. To reduce bleeding, he injected epinephrine.
It was supposed to be a routine procedure, but the consequences were anything but routine. Johnston's heart started racing, her blood pressure soared and her lungs filled with fluid, causing her to suffocate and die.
Records show Almasy gave her at least 100 times too much epinephrine during the procedure at Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville in 2010.
The Wisconsin Medical Examining Board in 2011 reprimanded Almasy, required him to take two classes and fined him $1,200.
"He destroyed my family," said Jaimie Barnes, 18, of Madison, Johnston's daughter. "He should have had his license suspended. I'm baffled he didn't get a higher punishment to fit the crime."
In a letter to the board from his attorney, Almasy said he was "devastated" by what happened. He declined to comment to the State Journal.
A lawsuit against Almasy led to an $885,000 settlement last year for Barnes and her three siblings, now ages 14, 9 and 3.
According to the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, Wisconsin has long ranked near the bottom of states in taking serious actions against doctors. In the group's latest annual report, Wisconsin ranked 46th, up from 49th the previous three years.
A major reason Wisconsin ranks low is the medical board's frequent use of reprimands instead of harsher penalties. Public Citizen doesn't consider reprimands to be serious discipline.
"They are slaps on the wrist," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group. "They don't have any effect on the doctor's practice."
But Dr. Gene Musser, a board member and former board chairman, said reprimands have consequences because they're public information. The state's 23,000 licensed doctors are notified about reprimands via a newsletter. Prospective employers find out. So can the public, by searching the medical board's website.
"The process a physician goes through to be reprimanded really wakes them up," Musser said. "It is a gigantic event."
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj