Dr. Death Aftermath: Texas Prioritizes Patient Transparency

In an age of instant access to information, medical care transparency lags woefully behind. 

Concealing physician incompetence

In a recent article I wrote, "Patient safety in America is in bad shape", I explain how consumers and patients are kept in the dark, having to trust unknown hospital credentialing committees to evaluate the competence of physicians to provide safe medical care. Even though there’s a federally required database full of physician outcome and disciplinary information, it’s off limits to the public.

Layers of laws protect physician confidentiality about prior claims, bad outcomes, and medical staff disciplinary actions. There’s largely an honor system requiring hospitals to check the National Practitioner Databank when evaluating a physician’s admission to the medical staff, and reevaluating the doctor’s competence each year.

Hospital investigations are secret, too

In states like Texas, though, consumers can’t even find out if hospitals and their credentialing committees even fulfilled those basic tasks. Hospital committee and credentialing committee privileges keep that information under lock and key. It's how a Texas hospital was hit with $40M+ verdict for allowing a physician with a license on probation to work at a hospital.

The inadequate Texas physician competence system gained worldwide attention when patients outcomes of disgraced neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch, MD, dubbed “Dr. Death” came to light. 

I represented a patient of Dr. Duntsch, Jerry Summers. Jerry was one of 31 of Dr. Duntsch’s patients who were left paralyzed or seriously injured. Two additional patients ended up dead. All that happened in just two years, and the high-profile litigation helped prod the Texas Medical Board to belatedly revoke Dr. Duntsch’s medical license in an emergency action. There would’ve likely been even more victims of medical malpractice if Dr. Death hadn’t been pursued in civil court medical malpractice actions.

New Texas law will help

In the 2023 legislative session, House Bill 1998 passed the House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott for signature. When signed into law, this legislation will:

  • Make it a crime (Class A misdemeanor) for a physician to lie or make false statements on an application for a Texas medical license.
     
  • Require the Texas Medical Board to regularly monitor the National Practitioner Data Bank for physician arrests, medical malpractice claims, and hospital or medical board disciplinary actions in other states.
     
  • Prevent doctors whose medical license has been suspended in another state from moving to Texas and getting a fresh new license to practice medicine.

I’m happy to see these changes because, in my opinion, the Texas Medical Board is basically a shell of an organization that’s ineffective in promoting medical competence and patient safety. In an article I wrote, I describe why hospitals keep physicians and providers with lots of bad outcomes. For example, I’ve handled cases where a surgeon was disciplined in a different state and moved here, obtained a license, and started practicing and committing medical malpractice against Texas patients. This new law should plug this gaping loophole.

Everyone expects Gov. Abbott to sign the new law, but I should point out that he was Texas Attorney General during the Dr. Death fiasco and intervened in the Duntsch medical malpractice lawsuits to maintain the privileged shroud of secrecy over hospital credentialing. 

If you’ve been seriously injured by poor medical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Frequently Asked Questions about Texas Patient Privacy Protection

1. Why is medical care transparency lacking?

In an age of instant access to information, medical care transparency lags woefully behind. Concealing physician incompetence and layers of laws protecting physician confidentiality about prior claims, bad outcomes, and medical staff disciplinary actions contribute to this lack of transparency.

2. Why is the National Practitioner Data Bank not accessible to the public?

Although there's a federally required database full of physician outcome and disciplinary information known as the National Practitioner Data Bank, it's off-limits to the public.

3. How are hospital investigations handled?

Hospital investigations, particularly in states like Texas, are often kept secret. Consumers may not even find out if hospitals and their credentialing committees fulfill basic tasks related to physician competence evaluation.

4. What was the impact of the Texas physician competence system?

The inadequate Texas physician competence system gained worldwide attention when the outcomes of disgraced neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch, MD, came to light. He was dubbed "Dr. Death" due to the harm caused to many patients.

5. How did the case of Dr. Duntsch lead to changes in the law?

The high-profile litigation surrounding Dr. Duntsch's medical malpractice actions helped prod the Texas Medical Board to belatedly revoke his medical license in an emergency action. This, in turn, led to the passing of House Bill 1998 in the 2023 legislative session.

6. What changes will House Bill 1998 bring to medical practice in Texas?

Once signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, House Bill 1998 will make it a crime for a physician to lie or make false statements on an application for a Texas medical license. Additionally, it will require the Texas Medical Board to regularly monitor the National Practitioner Data Bank for relevant information and prevent doctors with suspended licenses in other states from obtaining a new license to practice medicine in Texas.

7. How will the new Texas law address loopholes in physician competence evaluation?

The new law should address the issue of physicians with disciplinary actions in other states moving to Texas and committing medical malpractice against Texas patients. It aims to promote medical competence and patient safety.

8. Is it expected that Gov. Abbott will sign the new law?

Yes, it is anticipated that Gov. Abbott will sign the new law. However, it's worth noting that he was Texas Attorney General during the Dr. Death fiasco and intervened in the Duntsch medical malpractice lawsuits to maintain secrecy over hospital credentialing.

Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.