AUSTIN (KXAN) — In direct response to a ongoing series of KXAN surveysThe Texas Medical Board on Friday approved a major rule change impacting patient safety and transparency.
“Certainly your reporting has helped to speed up this process,” said TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran.
The new rule, spurred by our investigation, requires physicians to self-report criminal convictions, out-of-state disciplinary actions, and medical malpractice claims within 30 days. Previously, it was every two years. TMB says it is now more proactively updating its online doctor profiles after KXAN uncovers secret out-of-state disciplinary records.
“It has been brought to our attention that there are shortcomings,” TMB chief executive Stephen Carlton told board members at Friday’s meeting, referring to KXAN’s investigations. “Once it was brought to our attention, that it was something to speed up in terms of a change, that’s when we brought this rule to you.”
“We are always looking for ways to improve. Sometimes we identify how we can improve, sometimes others bring it to our attention,” Carlton added. “We are always happy to do our best to improve processes. So I want to thank them [KXAN] for highlighting an area where we can do better.
Additionally, in response to KXAN’s inquiries, Zaafran said he wants the legislature to require all doctors — not just new licensees — to be fingerprinted. Additionally, the council plans to ask lawmakers for funding to continuously monitor every physician in the state with the National Practitioner Data Bank. The NPDB charges $2.50 per year to perform a “continuous query” of doctors.
“Our mission is to protect patients,” said Zaafran, who read the TMB mission statement at the beginning of the board meeting.
After the meeting, for the first time, Zaafran sat down to answer KXAN’s questions in an extensive interview. This follows revelations that doctors whose medical licenses were revoked in other states were allowed to practice in Texas with doctors the board considered a “threat” to the public.
“Why allow physicians who you consider a threat to the public welfare,” asked KXAN investigator Matt Grant, “including physicians credibly accused of sexual misconduct with patients — minors in some cases – why allow them to continue practicing?”
“You know, you’re absolutely right. This is something that we always want to make sure the public is aware of and protected against in cases like this,” Zaafran said. “The struggle we have is when you’re talking about someone who’s been charged and someone who’s actually been convicted.”
The challenge for the board, Zaafran said, is balancing a doctor’s right to due process with the evidence available to the board. A difficult task, he says, when there is no criminal conviction. Any sanctions must also withstand a challenge in court, he added. This has led to disciplinary actions like limiting which patients doctors can treat or whether they can prescribe controlled substances.
“I think the frustration of patients and the public is that it seems like these doctors, who are seen as a danger, are allowed to continue treating patients and the only way to stop them is when they’re handcuffed,” he said. Grant. . “Shouldn’t it be your responsibility to protect the public?
“You know, if I was the one who could do things without having to be restricted by law,” Zaafran replied, “I absolutely would.”
“We are doing what we can, within our legal authority,” he added, “to prevent them from coming out and harming the public.”
Patient Safety and Policy
Zaafran has dismissed the idea that the council is political – even though he and half a dozen of his fellow council members have collectively donated nearly $400,000 to Governor Greg Abbott, who appointed them. He noted that “many board members have not contributed” to Abbott.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “we are all held accountable for what we do.”
Dismissing criticism from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke – who called TMB nominations “pay to play” – Zaafran said the same argument “could be made from both sides of the aisle”. Asked about O’Rourke’s campaign promise to increase the number of non-medical public board members, in response to KXAN investigations, Zaafran said the current structure “works.”
A KXAN analysis of every state medical board in the nation found that Texas had among the most public members. However, O’Rourke and patient safety advocates have called for those members to come from public safety and patient advocacy. Zaafran touted the need to have “a variety of backgrounds,” but admitted “yes, it would be” helpful to have members of the public with patient safety experience.
The board chairman said he wants to work with lawmakers from both parties in the upcoming session to improve the TMB and better protect patients. However, Zaafran criticized a legislative proposal by State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). Hall wants to eliminate confidential complaints. Zaafran thinks that would allow for more cases like “Dr. Death.” This is because doctors may fear retaliation for filing a complaint against another doctor, he said.
“What would you say to people who think the Texas Medical Board is not transparent?
“And,” Grant asked, referring to doctors deemed a “threat” allowed to continue treating patients, “isn’t he doing his job?”
“We are as transparent as possible,” Zaafran said. “Can we always do better? Absolutely.”