Nixon wants better oversight of doctors

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Gov. Jay Nixon wants to strengthen the state board responsible for protecting patients from doctors.

“We’ll look forward to working with the Legislature to strengthen the role” of the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts and ensure that significant complaints about doctors and other medical professionals “are handled in a timely fashion,” Nixon said Tuesday.

The comments came after a St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation found Missouri’s regulation of doctors is among the most lax in the U.S. The Democratic governor said he will work with state lawmakers in 2011.

Meanwhile, two members of a legislative committee that oversees licensing agencies say their top priority for the coming session will be to fix the system of disciplining doctors.

The Post-Dispatch investigation found that doctors who provide substandard care often continue to practice with no public reprimand. Regulators increasingly rely on nonpublic “letters of concern” to doctors. Those letters are not considered discipline.

The number of letters of concern issued increased from 20 in 1986 to 910 in 2006.

“We will hopefully be seeing some movement forward to make sure that we have a robust system of making sure that medical professionals of all types, not just doctors ... are thoroughly vetted and significant complaints about those are handled in a timely fashion,” Nixon said during an appearance in St. Louis.

John M. Huff, director of the department that oversees the healing arts board, said in a statement that he will meet with the board’s executive director “to discuss the issues raised in the series and will recommend appropriate changes to strengthen transparency and consumer protection.”

State Rep. Steve Webb, a St. Louis County Democrat and a member of the legislative oversight committee, was upset to learn how little information about doctors is made available to patients. And he was angered by a story showing that the healing arts board let a doctor in Poplar Bluff, Mo., keep practicing after admitting that he had urges to rub the sex organs of nonconsenting victims.

“If this guy was someone off the street, they’d put him in jail,” Webb said.

Rep. David Sater, R-Cassville, leads the House health appropriations committee and serves on the health care policy committee. He believes it should be easier for the board to suspend doctors in emergency circumstances.

“If they’re doing the wrong things and being negligent, if they have cases against them, they probably have to stop practicing,” he said.

State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, wants letters of concern to be public record, allowing patients to compare doctors’ performance.

“I think transparency would cure a lot of our problems in health care,” Stouffer said. “It’s amazing what the light of day cleans up.”

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