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Is the state medical board too lenient in giving second chances?

Georgia patients' rights advocates, including medical malpractice attorneys, have expressed concern over some instances in which Georgia regulators have allowed doctors who have been disciplined by the state medical board to have their licenses and privileges reinstated. It's been argued that the Georgia Composite Board is too deferential to some doctors who have harmed patients or placed them at risk and that state lawmakers may need to require stricter sanctions by the board.

In the words of an advocate, "It does really beg the question of what would a doctor have to do to not be reinstated? And what is the standard for professional conduct?" One malpractice attorney adds, "The board is designed to protect consumers, but in reality they are protecting their own." Of the board's 16 members, 13 are doctors.

The board doesn't comment on its decisions or discuss individual cases. However, it does release a monthly list of its orders, which includes the doctors it has given second chances -- sometimes with restrictions and in some cases after the doctors have undergone required therapy or training.

A pain management doctor whose restrictions were fully lifted last month was accused of overprescribing opioids and other addictive drugs. One board expert described him as a "drug dealer in a white coat." He reportedly prescribed ten separate drugs to one patient.

An administrative law judge determined that his "actions reflect inadequate training rather than deliberate misconduct." Although the judge recommended that he no longer be allowed to prescribe controlled substances, the board was satisfied with his completion of a course in drug prescription.

The Georgia Composite Board argues that it prefers to rehabilitate and provide training for physicians and to place restrictions on their practice when necessary rather than permanently and completely take away their right to practice medicine in the state. They point to the shortage of doctors -- particularly in rural areas.

It's always wise to do a little homework on any doctor you or your family see. However, even those who have a clean record can fail to provide the standard of care that patients have a right to expect. If you or a loved one has been harmed by any medical professional's negligence or error, it's wise to find out what your legal options are.

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