In wake of Supreme Court decision, groups call for state medical board changes

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For years our Safe Patient Project staff and activists have been monitoring state medical boards to see how closely they are adhering to their mission of protecting consumers by regulating and overseeing doctors. Following an important Supreme Court decision our Safe Patient Project, along with the Citizen Advocacy Center and the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego School of Law, sent a letter to every state attorney general asking them to provide information about how they are complying with the Court’s decision.

In February of this year, the Supreme Court decision North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, held that state agencies controlled by “active participants” in the regulated trade or profession do not get an antitrust exemption. That opens state medical boards to antitrust liability unless those boards are actively supervised by state governmental authorities.

We called on state attorneys general to implement the Court’s ruling to make state medical boards change from an industry-regulating-industry board comprised mainly of doctors to a model where boards are made up of mostly public members. We asked the attorneys general what they have done or are doing to implement the rule of law as now revised, and requested documentation under state public records acts. Our Safe Patient Project Director said in the letter:

“This arrangement of licensees controlling the licensing and regulation of their fellow professionals too often interferes with protecting the interests of the public. The implications of the North Carolina case have not been widely recognized as an opportunity to finally establish unbiased oversight of professionals of all types that puts the consumer first. While trade associations may well resist adding public members or submitting to review from a neutral body, that is exactly what should happen.”

We eagerly await their response. Patient safety activists are demanding transparency and accountability from medical boards. It’s time that states break up the cozy relationships between doctors and the state medical boards that oversee and license them. Patients who’ve filed complaints about a doctor have often told me the medical boards failed to take action. They’ve felt like the medical board boards are there to protect the doctors, not the patients. Do you know who’s on your state’s medical board?