Medical Staff Background Screening and the Rise in Physician Arrests

Medical Staff Background Screening and the Rise in Physician Arrests
Senior Director of Marketing

Running background checks on physicians can complement the medical staff services credentialing process, but it never ceases to surprise us when some healthcare organizations share they currently are not conducting background checks on physicians. In a July 2013 article published in EN Today, Tim Lary, Vice President of Physician Staffing at IPC: The Hospitalist Company, states, “Any competent health care organization will conduct a background check on physician job candidates, first and foremost to ensure patient safety and a safe practice environment for other health care providers.” This article reviews some of the latest statistics and cases concerning physician criminal behavior, why medical staff services departments should be concerned, and how a comprehensive background screening policy can help mitigate risk for both patients and your organization.

The Rise in Physician Arrests: Why Medical Staff Services Departments Should Be Concerned

In April 2014, the International Business Times published an article discussing the spike in physician arrests and how the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted at least 19 New York-area doctors in the past year. According to New Jersey office, the number of doctors prosecuted is up from seven in the previous year. Although most of the physicians’ crimes are fraud-related, patient safety remains a concern. One of the physicians arrested, Demetrios Gabriel, was accepting payments from a New Jersey lab for ordering unnecessary blood tests for patients. When physicians like Dr. Gabriel are driven by greed, it’s the patients that suffer. Although the New Jersey spokesperson did not call it a trend, they have observed a “spike” in the number of physician arrests. The arrests, unfortunately, are not unique to the New York area.

In April 2014, authorities in Anchorage, Alaska arrested Dr. Shubhranjan Gosh for allegedly billing Medicaid more than $300,000 for services he never provided. Dr. Gosh has been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor. In Agoura Hills, California, Dr. Terry Stanger has been charged with over a dozen felonies “related to money laundering and the overprescribing and selling of controlled substances”, according to an April 2014 article by The Acorn newspaper.  

In Palm Beach, Florida, Dr. John Chirstensen is facing two manslaughter charges (originally charged as first degree murder for the overdose deaths of two patients), as well as 68 other drug crimes. While Dr. Christensen’s case is also related to prescription fraud, he is also accused of causing the deaths of two patients.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, four doctors are accused of distributing narcotics through the Wagoner Medical Clinic, reports the Kokomo Tribune. The doctors were also scheduled to go before the medical board in May and June 2014.

In Hawthorne, New Jersey, Dr. John Strobeck was indicted in May 2014 for allegedly fondling two female patients at his practice in 2012, according to an article by The Gazette.

These are just a few of some of the most recent cases we’ve seen in the news headlines. Based on these cases, it is apparent that the criminal activity occurs throughout the United States and that it can be as serious as causing a patient’s death, although a large portion of the offenses are fraud-related. With patient safety at stake, medical staff services departments and healthcare organizations should consider conducting background checks on physicians in order to protect patients and safeguard their organization’s reputation.

How a Physician Background Screening Policy Can Help

As we’ve discussed before, a physician background screening program can help protect healthcare organizations and their patients from bad doctors. If your organization receives federal funds for patient services, you’re going to want to run exclusion and sanction checks against databases such as the OIG LEIE, for example. In fact, it is recommended that you monitor the LEIE on a monthly basis according to the latest guidance from the OIG issued in May 2013. Having an excluded physician on your floor could leave you subject to fines and Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP’s).

Exclusion screening, however, is just a component of a comprehensive physician background check. Based on the recent cases we reviewed above, it’s also important to conduct criminal record searches to ensure that you can make a smart decision whether you hire or appoint physicians at your facility. It’s also worth mentioning that a background check represents a snapshot in time, and running a background check on a physician two or three years from now may reveal new criminal records. Thus, in order to minimize the level of risk for your patients and your facility, it is recommended to run criminal background checks on physicians at both appointment and reappointment. Even if you hire physicians at your facility, it’s also recommended that you run background checks on an ongoing basis to effectively protect your organization.

Are you evaluating background screening vendors? Contact us today to learn how PreCheck’s healthcare-focused screening services can help you protect your patients and staff.

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit