Tag Archives: medical boards

SCOTUS decision on teeth-whitening business may hold wider implications for medical boards

Image by waldopepper via Flickr

Image by waldopepper via Flickr

Lisa Schencker of Modern Healthcare  and Anne Blythe of the Raleigh News & Observer were among the first reporters to get the news out.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina state dental board does not have the authority to regulate teeth-whitening businesses.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices found the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners, which is comprised mostly of dentists, illegally quashed competition from non-dentists who sought to open teeth-whitening shops in the state. The decision, which upheld a lower court’s ruling, has the potential to impact other professional licensing boards across the country, experts say. Continue reading

Supreme Court hears case over teeth whitening, professional board’s power

Photo by dbking via Flickr

Photo by dbking via Flickr

WASHINGTON — A long-running fight between the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services reached the nation’s high court today.

During an intense hour of oral arguments, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court delved into whether the state board overstepped federal anti-trust laws in sending out threatening “cease and desist” letters to operators of teeth whitening salons in mall kiosks and salons.

Was the board, which is dominated by practicing dentists, unfairly obstructing competition from lower-priced providers? Or was the body fulfilling its obligation to protect the public health by acting as an arm of the state to shut down illegal practitioners of dentistry?

The court’s decision might have implications for teeth-whitening shops around the country, as well as for the state-established boards that regulate a wide range of professions, Emery Dalesio reported in an Oct. 13 story for The Associated Press

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and the struggle over who should be allowed to bleach teeth has been playing out in many states in recent years. Continue reading

Senators request inquiry into state medical boards

Three senators are asking the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the oversight provided by state medical boards after several recent media reports questioning the supervision of physicians in the country.statemedboards-senate

Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Daniel Levinson, HHS inspector general, on Wednesday, calling on his office to undertake the review and assess the quality of state boards on a variety of levels.

The senators cited recent reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New Haven Independent Connecticut Health Investigative Team,* all of which pointed to lax oversight of doctors in their states.

“Since the HHS-OIG has not issued a comprehensive evaluation of state medical boards in more than 15 years, it is critical that the HHS-OIG evaluate the effectiveness of state medical boards and provide recommendations to enhance their organizations’ efforts within each state and across state boundaries,” they wrote. “With the adoption of advanced medical technologies, such as teleradiology, and an increase in physicians holding medical licenses in two or more states, it is becoming increasingly important that states issue timely board actions and coordinate licensure actions to protect the public from unqualified or marginally proficient practitioners.”

The letter asks the inspector general to suggest ways to improve and to determine whether sanctions by Medicare against doctors are being reported to state medical boards and to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federally run database of discipline imposed against doctors and other health professionals.

As readers of this blog know, AHCJ has taken a leadership role in criticizing the Obama administration for restricting reporters’ access to a public version of the National Practitioner Data Bank, used by the media to write stories such as those highlighted in the letter.

AHCJ regularly holds training sessions for members on how to better cover the quality of health professionals in their states.

* Correction: The senators’ letter incorrectly cites the New Haven Independent for stories that were actually written by Lisa Chedekel of the Connecticut Health Investigative Team, a nonprofit project of the Online Journalism Project.

Secrecy around data bank protects ‘Practitioner No. 222117’

Alan Bavley of The Kansas City Star provides us with a stark illustration of why new restrictions on the use of the National Practitioner Data Bank are not in the public interest.

In the most straightforward example yet, Bavley reports on “Practitioner No. 222117,” a doctor whose medical licenses have been revoked or suspended by 20 states, who was banned from billing Medicaid or Medicare and whose license to prescribe was yanked by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Bavley learned all of that from perusing the data bank’s Public Use File.

The NPDB includes reports on malpractice payments and disciplinary actions involving health care professionals. Hospitals and state medical boards can use the data when deciding to grant staff privileges or when reviewing license applications, though AHCJ found state medical boards do that less than you might expect. The NPDB’s Public Use File, available for download on a public website, removes identifying information. Bavely’s article explains more about how they de-identify the data.

Despite all we know about Practitioner No. 222117, we don’t know if he or she is still practicing medicine. The public, including journalists, is restricted from using the data to identify this doctor.

In the past, reporters have used information in the Public Use File, in combination with other records, to identify to flesh out their reporting on troubled doctors and show the failure of medical boards to act against doctors with multiple malpractice awards.

That ended on Sept. 1, when the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the database, removed the public use file because one doctor complained about stories that Bavley was writing.

AHCJ, along with other journalism groups and patient-safety advocates, decried the database’s removal. In November, HRSA restored the Public Use File – but with restrictions on how it can be used. Reporters and researchers have to agree not to connect any individual to information in the database. Reporters can be barred from future access to the database if HRSA decides they have violated the rules. For more background, please see AHCJ’s Right to Know page or this timeline.