New Hampshire Legislature Considers Action as Attorney General’s Report on State Medical Board Demands Greater Transparency on Dangerous Doctors
The attorney general of New Hampshire has recently released a report urging the state’s board of medicine to introduce measures that would enhance transparency around physicians who may pose a risk to the public. One of the recommendations made by the attorney general’s office is to make malpractice complaints and settlements publicly available, alongside publishing the names of doctors who have received private “letters of concern.” These proposals aim to increase awareness and accessibility of information concerning potentially unsafe doctors.
The report comes after a September 2022 series of Boston Globe articles revealed that a New Hampshire cardiac surgeon had an unblemished record on the medical board’s website despite paying 21 medical malpractice settlements — including 14 in which he is accused of contributing to a patient’s death — during his career. The Globe articles also accused the state’s disciplinary system of being too lenient, citing a study that found New Hampshire to be “the weakest among the 50 states in disciplining troubled doctors.”
The attorney general’s report, which examined 25 years of board records, did not find fault with the board’s past investigations or level of public disclosure regarding the cardiac surgeon specifically. However, it suggested policymakers consider implementing reforms to bolster the board’s investigatory tools and increase transparency in the disciplinary process.
According to the report, the board of medicine received 147 physician complaints last year, yet took disciplinary action in just 17 instances. The board took disciplinary action only nine times after receiving more than 215 complaints in 2021. There is no data available on the number of letters of concern issued by the board.
The report also suggests that the Office of Professional Licensure & Certification, which oversees the state medical board, should have the power to temporarily take over investigations if the board fails to properly protect the public or lacks sufficient resources. The attorney general recommends the public have more information about doctors, including malpractice complaints and settlements, and suggests that the fact that letters of concern are not public may be one reason the board appears to act on complaints at a low rate compared to its peers in other states.
The report suggests establishing a system in which physicians who settle malpractice claims are publicly identified. Letters of concern should also be made public. Finally, policymakers should consider making complaints related to civil lawsuits publicly available through the board of medicine, as doing so would enhance transparency and provide further insight into the board’s activities by linking relevant public documents to physicians. While these complaints are already public within the court system, making them available via the board would improve transparency and accountability.
Concurrent with the attorney general’s report, a special committee formed by the state legislature to scrutinize the board of medicine’s practices released its policy recommendations. House Bill 454, which has already passed the House and is being considered in the Senate, would designate a member of the board of medicine as the “public transparency advocate.” This individual would be responsible for enhancing transparency and generating an annual report for the state senate’s Health & Human Services Committee. The proposed bill also requires that two of the three public members who serve on the board must have no professional or financial affiliations with the field of medicine.