Physician Criminal Cases Are Underreported: Why Background Screening Is Necessary in Medical Staff Services

Physician Criminal Cases Are Underreported: Why Background Screening Is Necessary in Medical Staff Services
Senior Director of Marketing

According to a recent July 2014 article published in The Boston Globe, Massachusetts courts routinely fail to report physicians facing criminal charges to the board that oversees physician discipline. The audit findings are extremely alarming for medical staff services departments and healthcare organizations. Out of the 84 active physicians that Massachusetts State Auditor Suzan Bump’s staff identified as having a felony or serious misdemeanor convictions, only two doctors were reported to the Board of Registration in Medicine between 2002 and 2012. That’s less than 3% of physicians with criminal convictions. When healthcare organizations choose not to conduct criminal background checks on physicians, they take on a considerable amount of risk by potentially allowing more than 9 out of 10 physicians with criminal backgrounds into their facilities.

The Physician Background Check Loopholes

While the audit findings discussed in The Boston Globe article pertain to Massachusetts, it wouldn’t surprise me to find similarities in other states across the country. It’s entirely possible that the numbers may be better in other states, but I’m willing to bet you could still find a similar trend at a national level. Even if we set aside the issue of courts failing to report physician criminal convictions to medical boards, there are still at least two other loopholes when it comes to physician background checks.

  1. Not all Medical Boards Conduct Background Checks on Physicians

    In a 2012 article published in American Medical News, Carolyne Krupa states, “Of the nation’s 70 medical boards, 46 boards in 36 states can conduct a criminal background check as a condition of licensure.” Part of the issue is not all states have the authority to conduct background checks on physicians. Not much has changed since 2012, with approximately one-third of medical boards not conducting background checks.

  2. At Least 40 Boards Have Access to the FBI’s Inaccurate Database

    While utilizing the FBI database may seem like a good thing in theory, research has demonstrated that the FBI’s criminal database is faulty. Studies estimate that approximately half of the FBI’s records are either inaccurate or incomplete. In fact, I’ve written an entire article discussing exactly why healthcare organizations shouldn’t rely exclusively on FBI background checks. While some legislation requires FBI fingerprint background checks, it’s simply not an accurate criminal search.

Medical Staff Services Background Checks: A Necessary Precaution

If courts fail to report physicians’ criminal cases to medical boards, only two-thirds of medical boards conduct background checks on physicians at time of licensure, and even those boards conducting background checks may be utilizing a highly inaccurate criminal database, then there’s definitely a number of ways something could go unnoticed at healthcare organizations. In fact, there have been cases where a convicted felon was able to treat patients for over a decade without anyone noticing their criminal history. Unless healthcare organizations and medical staff services departments take matters into their own hands, physicians with criminal history can easily treat patients at their facility.

A comprehensive physician background check will search the primary sources, by directly going to the state and county courts to obtain the latest publicly available information. It’s also important to protect your organization from physicians that are excluded from participating in federal healthcare programs, so it is highly recommended that you check the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) and other publicly available exclusion lists to protect your facility from incurring Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP’s). Finally, don’t forget the importance of conducting re-screenings on an ongoing basis. For exclusion checks, the OIG recommends conducting exclusion screening on a monthly basis as the best practice in the industry. For criminal background checks, it’s highly recommended that you conduct a criminal re-check at the time of reappointment for physicians. Some healthcare organizations even go as far as conducting criminal re-checks on all of their staff on an annual basis to ensure they know the latest about their staff before finding out from a negative media report.

Whether you choose to conduct background checks on physicians on an annual basis or simply at time of initial appointment, only you know the level of risk your organization is comfortable with. The first step is to establish a physician background screening program, because there are too many loopholes in the medical board system.

Contact us today to learn how PreCheck can help you enhance your credentialing process with our customized physician background check packages.

PreCheck Background Screening Resource Kit