In early 2014, a 4-year-old Dallas boy named Salomon Barahona Jr. died after undergoing sedation for a dental procedure.
The child’s death spurred Dallas Morning News reporter Brooks Egerton to embark upon what turned out to be a major reporting project – an 18-month investigation of dental safety in the United States.
Egerton sifted through thousands of records detailing patient harm and endangerment drawn from many sources: state and federal regulators, police, coroners, academic researchers, courts, litigators, insurers, dental schools and dentists themselves. Continue reading
How transparent is your state dental board when it comes to helping patients find out more about their dentists?
In Arizona, the state board of dental examiners has taken actions against hundreds of dentists in recent years. But it can be difficult for a patient in the state to find out if his or her dentist has been in trouble.
Linda Holt started worrying about the quality of her dental care after suffering complications from an implant procedure, Phoenix-based ABC-15 television explained in one part of a recent investigative series.
But if she had checked the profile of her dentist, Glenn Featherman, on the Arizona Board of Dental Examiner’s website she would not have been able to tell that he had recently been cited by the board for problems that arose with an implant procedure he performed on another patient. Continue reading
By zeroing in on one particular type of dangerous physician behavior, known as “reckless prescribing,” Los Angeles Times reporters Lisa Girion and Scott Glover were able to draw a powerful link between the state medical board’s inaction and patient death in an investigation titled “Dying for Relief.”
For the piece, reporters reviewed state medical board records and coroner’s files, assembling evidence that “At least 30 patients in Southern California have died of drug overdoses or related causes while their doctors were under investigation for reckless prescribing. The board ultimately sanctioned all but one of those 12 doctors, and some were criminally charged – too late to prevent the deaths.”
For its part, the board has been hit hard by state budget cuts and, the reporters write, is hamstrung because “Unlike medical regulators in other states, it cannot suspend a doctor’s license or prescribing privileges on its own, even to prevent imminent harm.” The resulting lack of oversight has led to pervasive overprescribing and uneven enforcement. For more details and a powerful narrative hook, I strongly recommend reviewing the paper’s brilliantly produced online package.
The Center for Public Integrity’s Data Mine focuses on the National Practitioner Databank and the lack of public access to information in the database, which contains information about loss of privileges for medical professionals, malpractice payments and license revocations.
The public can access and use statistical information from the database but it cannot find out information about specific professionals. The American Medical Association, opposes making information in the database public because it “is riddled with duplicate entries [and] inaccurate data,” according to the Data Mine’s report.
A report last year from Public Citizen revealed that hospitals take advantage of loopholes to avoid reporting disciplined physicians to the database.
For those of you who have followed the ongoing investigation ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber have done into nurses and whether states are reporting disciplinary actions, you might have a chance to localize the story.
ProPublica has posted a guide, “Reporting Recipe: How You Can Investigate Your State’s Oversight of Its Nurses and Other Licensed Professionals,” to help reporters and the public check up on what’s happening in their states.
ProPublica editor-in-chief Paul Steiger and managing editor Stephen Engelberg, explain why they are providing the reporters’ techniques and insights:
We hope that others will use the techniques created by Ornstein and Weber to hold local officials accountable. Reporters who look into the local boards that oversee nurses or other health professionals will make new discoveries, some of which will undoubtedly go beyond what we have found. That, in turn, will help others push the story ahead. We hope statehouse reporters, beat reporters, general assignment reporters, bloggers, citizen journalists and others will use this road map.
Use the state-by-state guide prepared by Ornstein (also president of AHCJ’s board of directors) and Weber that shows what information is available to the public in each state and specific things to look for in the records.
They have used the data to identify some states that appear to be inconsistent in reporting disciplinary actions against medical professionals. If you are covering any of these states, you should probably be looking into the story yourself:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia