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Doctors Still Allowed to Practice Despite Multiple Medical Malpractice Payouts

SurgeonA look into medical malpractice payouts in the state of Florida by CBS has revealed some concerning statistics. Out of 25 physicians in the state with the most payouts, only four have lost their licenses and their ability to practice medicine.

The other 21 doctors continue to practice, despite numerous reports of malpractice or negligence by former patients.

Appendectomy leads to patient death

The recent report from CBS began with Dr. Ernest Rehnke, a surgeon practicing in St. Petersburg. In 2009, Dr. Rehnke performed an emergency appendectomy on Susie Dunphy, a 42-year-old mother of two who was vacationing in Florida with her husband and children. Two days after the surgery, Dunphy bled to death in her hospital bed – the result of Rehnke’s negligence, according to Dunphy’s husband, Dr. James Dunphy, an M.D. who also teaches medical students.

Dr. Dunphy spent the weeks following his wife’s death poring over her medical records. He discovered that Susie Dunphy had critically low blood pressure for a number of hours after her operation. However, no tests were ordered during that time to pinpoint a cause for the low pressure, an elementary error that Dr. Dunphy said he wouldn’t even expect of the medical students he teaches.

As a result of his findings, Dr. Dunphy filed a lawsuit against Rehnke, alleging the surgeon’s failure to monitor his wife after her surgery led in part to her death. The case was settled by Rehnke for $250,000, the maximum allowed by his insurance company, despite the fact that Rehnke denied any wrongdoing in the case. One year after the settlement, Dr. Dunphy received a letter in the mail from the Florida Board of Medicine, stating the agency found no evidence of wrongdoing on Rehnke’s part after a review of the case.

This was not the first time Rehnke was sued for medical malpractice or negligence. In fact, CBS News found the surgeon had made 11 medical malpractice payouts since 2000. That figure was the highest for any Florida physician during that timeframe. Despite the alarming number, the Florida Board of Medicine had never revoked or restricted Rehnke’s license to practice medicine.

Concerns raised by watchdog group

The Florida Board of Medicine is responsible for taking action against physicians that are accused of negligence or malpractice in the state. However, Florida is one of three states to take the least number of actions against physicians, according to statistics from watchdog group Public Citizen. The other states were Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Carolina.

Public Citizen told CBS News the numbers indicate the Florida Board of Medicine is not doing its job. Three of the four physicians that have lost their licenses to practice medicine in the state were either arrested and charged with billing fraud or drug trafficking. The fourth failed to comply with a lesser punishment and ended up losing his license as a result. Twenty-one are still practicing, despite their notoriety as the top physicians in Florida to make payouts to patients alleging medical malpractice.

Malpractice statistics

Florida is not the only state to have medical malpractice issues. A report at USA Today last year found that between 2001 and 2011, nearly 250 physicians nationwide cited as an “immediate threat to health and safetynever had their licenses restricted or revoked. Another 900 that were cited for malpractice, negligence or incompetence also received no license restrictions for their actions.

States with the most malpractice payouts in 2012 included New York, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey and Florida. The most common reason for payouts was related to diagnosis. Other reasons were related to surgery, obstetrics, and treatment. Internists and family practitioners were the most likely to face a lawsuit, followed by gynecologists, psychiatrists and cardiologists.