Disciplinary Procedures

Disciplinary procedures responding to charges of fraud, incompetence, or malpractice occur at several levels. A certain amount of discipline is carried out by the professional association and is entirely a private matter among the professionals. At the state level, the procedure for disciplining delinquent practitioners varies, but generally it requires that some aggrieved party—a dissatisfied patient, a cost-conscious insurance company, or the plaintiff's lawyer in a malpractice case—register a complaint with the disciplinary board of the state. The agency in charge of these matters will investigate the case, assemble evidence, schedule a hearing, make a finding, and recommend appropriate action. Possible actions include dismissing the complaint, requiring some hours of community service, and removing a license. Increasingly, part of the decision is a refresher course in medical ethics.

The state medical boards are empowered to revoke a physician's license. Short of actual revocation of license, all actions taken against a professional are recorded and circulated through the National Practitioner Data Bank, where misconduct and malpractice findings are logged. The data bank is available to regulators in all fifty states. There are exceptions, but most health professions and practitioners are in the data bank.

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