Coalition fights malpractice problem

By Lynn Kallal

Exposing and combating the problem of physician malpractice in Illinois was the topic of discussion Wednesday at the DeKalb Public Library.

Karen Imbus, victim coordinator for Statewide Consumer Advocacy Coalition, spoke at the library, 309 Oak St., to inform the public of the coalition’s new major study, “Bad Doctors: A Report on Illinois Disciplinary Actions Against Incompetent and Negligent Medical Doctors.”

“We are a coalition comprised of labor unions, senior citizens, community organizations and some environmental groups,” said Imbus. Their purpose is to inform the public of the big problem of malpractice in Illinois today.

The study reports of disciplinary actions against incompetent and negligible doctors. “Although it is impossible to estimate the total number of malpractice cases in Illinois, we know that it is a big problem. There were between 136,000 and 310,000 cases of malpractice reported, but there are many that are not reported,” she said.

The Department of Registration and Education of Springfield, Il., is the office responsible for disciplinary action against doctors who have been charged with malpractice. According to Imbus, the Medical Disciplinary Board of the department reports that there have been over 800 malpractice settlements out of court. Of these, 168 were claims that exceeded $100,000.

“Not one doctor in Illinois has had his license revoked for medical malpractice in the past year, and in the past 12 years, only four licenses have been revoked or suspended for malpractice or incompetence,” Imbus said.

“We are not satisfied with the job of the Department of Registration and Health. We want to see tighter monitoring and discipline against the doctors so to assure citizens of quality health care,” she said.

“One of the major problems is that there are 5,000 physicians to every one investigator. We would like to see the number fall to 400 physicians for every one investigator,” she added.

Cathy Rem of the Department of Registration and Health said that according to the law, there must be at least one investigator for every 5,000 physicians, and there are 12 investigators for the 25,000 physicians in the state.

em said that she finds the report full of inaccuracies and deletions of important details. “The report is focused on the small number of disciplinary actions on doctors found guilty of malpractice by the courts, and that the department isn’t doing a good job.”

“What people don’t realize is that although a court may find a doctor guilty of malpractice and turn the doctor over to us, we have to find the person guilty of gross malpractice that has resulted in a serious injury or death,” Rem said. “A doctor can be found guilty of negligence or simple malpractice, but our standard is higher than the courts. It is much harder for us to prove a case gross malpractice, instead of a simple negligence case.”

“In 1986, the department took 126 actions against physicians on the 26 grounds under which the department can,” she said. These grounds include charges other than malpractice, such as substance abuse.

A big part of the issue is physicians’ rights. Doctors are very concerned with the high prices of their malpractice insurance. In 1985, legislation was passed in favor of the physicians. It imposed penalties on lawyers for bringing frivolous suits to court, Imbus said.

“The doctors are trying to get legislation passed by the Illinois State Medical Society that will put limits on the amount of money a person can get in a malpractice suit … but this is only hurting the people who have been most severely affected … people suffering from paralysis, severe permanent brain damage and wrongful death,” Imbus said. These circumstances account for more than 60 percent of medical malpractice cases, she said.