Has your doctor ever been disciplined? - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Has your doctor ever been disciplined?

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The latest medical malpractice settlement signed just a few weeks ago for $300,000 has raised concerns about just how many physicians on Guam have had medical malpractice claims filed against them. That information, unfortunately, isn't readily available to potential patients like you and me.

The responsibility of ensuring disciplined doctors lies solely with the Guam Board of Medical Examiners.

The Board can be considered the island's first line of defense to ensure chronically disciplined doctors aren't licensed to practice medicine locally. In order for a physician to get a license to practice medicine on Guam, the individual must meet specific criteria.  Aside from completing an accredited medical school and residency program and passing a licensing exam, a doctor must also provide a report from the National Practitioners Data Bank, which serves as a source of additional information on a physicians background.

GBME chairperson Dr. Joan Gill said, "We review any report from the physician and the National Practitioners Data bank and we look to see if there was any negligence or pattern of negligence on the physician's part. If there is we look too see if there's been any steps to remedy the problem such as being asked to go for more training have a mentorship and if they've done so and satisfactorily completed that we look at that as evidence that the problem has been corrected."

The Board can choose to license a physician, deny a license, or put the doctor on probation and have them monitored for a certain period of time. Accessing information on your practitioner isn't as easy as it is in the states, where most medical licensure boards have web sites with the information available at your fingertip. 

It's something the board is hoping to implement on Guam.

Said Gill, "Our records are public information. One of our goals this year, it has been for several years, this year to we are asking for funding to have a web site so the public will have information about where a physician is trained and we'll also have disciplinary actions and any steps that were taken."

The recent medical malpractice case against Guam Memorial Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Glenn Cunningham raised some concerns. The physician had been disciplined for repeated negligent acts related to a surgery he performed in California resulting in him being placed on probation for several years and having to undergo additional training. He was also disciplined in the state of Iowa related to the California action. A superior court in California also imposed a $75,000 judgment against him relative to a medical arbitration citation.

Dr. Gill says the board was made aware of Cunningham's past when he applied for a license several years ago.  She defended the board's decision saying many doctors, especially those with surgical specialties are often sued but the board reviews each claim and any disciplinary action imposed on the physician. "We don't accept anybody," she stated. "You have to have an active, valid license in another state already. So we're not taking somebody who can't practice anywhere else."

She added, "We want to help and promote in the recruitment and retention of physicians, but...we are the first line of defense so we must really be careful of credentials and if there has been disciplinary action to make sure as much as possible that the person has gone through retraining and has done what has been requested."

When the GBME learns of a medical malpractice settlement or if a complaint comes to the board, the matter is taken up by the disciplinary subcommittee that will review the records and may seek a peer review of the case to see if there was a violation of the practice act. In the case of Dr. Cunningham, the board is expected to have the disciplinary subcommittee review the matter involving Logan Fain, whose leg had to be amputated after a surgical procedure was conducted at GMH.

Of note is that in any disciplinary matter, the board can choose to have the physician seek more training or decide to suspend or revoke the doctor's license to practice medicine.

For the time being, if you want to find out whether your doctor has ever been disciplined you have to submit a written request to the board.

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