Texas aims to close 'Dr. Death' loophole

Texas lawmakers have passed a bill that would strengthen the state medical board's authority to regulate and discipline physicians who may pose a threat to patients. 

The House and Senate signed off on the bill May 29, and it now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk. 

The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor to lie on a medical license application. It would also prevent physicians who had their medical licenses revoked, restricted or suspended in another state from practicing in Texas. The board would also conduct monthly monitoring of the National Practitioner Data Bank to learn about physicians' arrests, malpractice lawsuits or out-of-state disciplinary actions. Licensed physicians would pay a small fee to cover monitoring costs. 

The legislation comes five years after Texas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, MD, PhD — nicknamed "Dr. Death" — was sentenced to life in prison for killing or injuring more than 30 patients, according to NBC affiliate KXAN. Reporting and monitoring shortcomings with the National Practitioner Data Bank allowed Dr. Duntsch to gain credentialing at several Dallas hospitals and continue practicing, despite concerns about his competence as a surgeon. 

"I am pleased that we were able to achieve meaningful reform to the Texas Medical Board," Rep. Julie Johnson, the bill's author, told KXAN. "We have closed a loophole that allowed for situations like Dr. Death cases to happen and gave the TMB necessary tools to properly credential and investigate physician malpractice. Texas patients will have greater protection and transparency going forward."

Ms. Johnson said the bill was prompted by KXAN's reporting, which found that nearly 50 physicians were still practicing in Texas despite other state medical boards taking actions against their licenses.

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