The List

I heard a story this morning on NPR about a national database of professional misconduct by nurses, nurses’ aides and pharmacists.  Although such a list apparently exists, hospitals and other health care facilities do not have access to it due to a regulatory oversight by the Department of Health and Human Services (they do have access to a similar list of physicians).  An organization called the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group is lobbying DHHS to make the database available.

I am all for accountability.  I think making the database available for pre-hiring background checks is definitely important.  ALL health care providers who have abused patients and/or drugs should be scrutinized carefully.  So go for it, Secretary Sibelius.

No, my beef with this situation is due to a statement made by the group’s director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe: “There are probably more records of disciplined nurses and nurses aides than there are of disciplined doctors, except the doctors stuff is in the data bank, accessible to hospitals. The nurses, nurses aides and pharmacists are secret right now.”

Um, ex-squeeze me???

That is an awfully presumptive statement to make.  And it only serves to reinforce the division between physicians and “non-physician health professionals.” I don’t know exact numbers, but in my personal and professional experience, I have never seen a nurse, CNA or pharmacist engage in misconduct of any kind.  Of course I’ve heard of it and of course it happens, but I truly believe it is an exception to the rule.  I think most health professionals (doctors AND nurses included) don’t abuse their patients and don’t steal narcotics.

I also believe, however, that it is much harder to discipline physicians for misconduct.  The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has this statement on their web page: “While medical boards sometimes find it necessary to suspend or revoke licenses, regulators have found many problems can be resolved with additional education or training in appropriate areas. In other instances, it may be more appropriate to place physicians on probation or place restrictions on a physician’s license to practice. This compromise protects the public while maintaining a valuable community resource in the physician.”

Meanwhile, I Googled “revoking RN license” and got over 40,000 hits about nurses whose licenses were taken away.  In many situations, I’m sure that was justified, but nowhere could I find a statement similar to the FSMB’s about protecting the public while maintaining a valuable community resource in the nurse.

So what do you think? Do we as a society point fingers at nurses more readily than doctors?  If so, should this be the case?  Should doctors have stricter standards for maintaining their medical credentials? And for nurses who do lose their license, should they have recourse to get it back after a probationary period?

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