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Military Doctors Reported Deficient Newspaper Article Charges Proficiency, Guidelines Poor

Sun., Oct. 5, 1997

The U.S. military’s health care system is a magnet for problem doctors, employing physicians who failed multiple state medical board exams, had their licenses revoked or suspended, lost their malpractice insurance or were convicted of crimes, the Dayton Daily News reported.

“I think if Mom and Dad send their sons and daughters in harm’s way, they have an expectation that the medical care afforded them is as close to what they’d get at home as can be expected,” Donald A. Kroll, an Air Force Reserve doctor who heads the military committee for the American Society of Anesthesiologists, told the paper. “Are they getting what they get at home? No.”

A Defense Department health official said differences between the civilian and military health care systems don’t decrease the quality of care in the service and that military hospitals rate highly compared to others.

“The most important thing to us in military medicine is concern for the health and well-being of our patients,” said John Mazzuchi, deputy assistant secretary of defense for clinical services.

The Daily News reviewed thousands of previously unreleased government records, interviewed more than 200 people in 12 states and analyzed more than a dozen computer databases, some obtained only after a federal judge ordered the military to release them.

The newspaper’s yearlong examination, published in today’s editions, found:

Doctors in the military health care system do not have the restrictions and liabilities of civilian doctors. Military doctors are not required to have malpractice insurance, they do not have to be licensed in every state where they practice, and they are virtually immune from being sued by their patients.

The military does not routinely warn the public of doctors whose mistakes cause injuries or death. More than 75 military medical centers never reported a doctor for medical malpractice to a database created by Congress in 1990 to protect the public from problem doctors. There were more than 1,000 claims of malpractice at those centers, several involving deaths.

At least 200 doctors practiced in the military with records of incompetence or malpractice from both in and out of the military. In addition, 77 doctors either failed their state licensing exam or had no evidence in their files that they took it. One failed 30 times.

Mazzuchi said an audit is being conducted to determine whether the military is following guidelines for reporting doctors linked to medical malpractice and misconduct. He also acknowledged that some military doctors practiced without proper licenses.

“We have initiated action to correct this situation,” he said.

Because doctors in the service are frequently transferred, the military allows its physicians to hold a license from any state regardless of where they are stationed. With doctors often far from where they were licensed, state medical boards depend on the military for information But the military is sometimes reluctant to criticize its doctors, the newspaper said.

The Defense Department declined to comment to The Associated Press. It did, however, provide an eightpage statement explaining its policies for doctors practicing in the military.

In addition to treating men and women in the armed services, the military offers free medical care to 8.2 million family members and retirees.


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