COMMENTARY

Medical Boards Are Too Lax; Payment for Pain and Suffering; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

October 17, 2014

In This Article

Medical Boards Are Too Lax, Critics Claim

Are medical boards doing a proper job of protecting the public from substandard care? In the case of at least one state, the answer seems to be "no" according to a recent investigatory report by CBS News.[1]

At the center of the CBS report is Dr James Dunphy, a Chicago-based internist and teacher, and his late wife, Sukunya "Susie" Dunphy, also a physician.[2] While vacationing in Florida with her husband and two children in 2009, Susie Dunphy complained of severe abdominal pain, which led to an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy at Palms of Pasadena Hospital, in St Petersburg. The procedure was performed by Tampa Bay bariatric surgeon Ernest Rehnke, now 61. Two days after her surgery, Dunphy died of postoperative bleeding.

In a suit filed following his wife's death, James Dunphy claimed that neither Rehnke nor the hospital's nursing staff had adequately monitored her after the surgery, despite a drop in blood pressure and an elevation in her heart rate. The case was eventually settled out of court for $250,000—the maximum Rehnke's insurance company would allow for a single claim—although he denied any wrongdoing. A year later, the Florida Board of Medicine notified Dunphy that, after a review of the case, it concluded that the Florida surgeon had not acted negligently and would therefore not be sanctioned.

But a review of Florida records by CBS News found that since 2000, the defendant had had 11 malpractice payouts, tying him with another doctor for the most such payouts of any practicing physician in Florida. Despite this, the Florida Board of Medicine had never taken steps to restrict or revoke his license.

In a further investigation, CBS News identified those Florida doctors with the most number of malpractice payouts, either as a result of a settlement or judgment. Of the top 25, only four had lost their licenses, although for reasons other than providing substandard medical care. (Three had their licenses yanked after being arrested and charged with either drug trafficking or billing fraud; the fourth lost his after he failed to comply with the terms of a lesser sentence.)

Florida is among the states with the fewest medical board actions per physician, joining South Carolina, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The states with the most actions per physician are Ohio, Oklahoma, and Alaska.

As a result of the CBS News investigation, Florida State Senator Jeremy Ring, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, has promised to introduce legislation aimed at improving the state medical board's ability to protect patients.

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