According to the buzz at our hospital, a member of the medical staff had to pay compensatory and punitive damages in a malpractice case in another state. This makes me wonder: If a practitioner's care is so poor that the patient is harmed and awarded punitive damages, must the practitioner meet certain legal criteria to continue practicing? Or can she get around them by moving to a different state?-H.W., TEX.
Compensatory and punitive damages are common in malpractice suits where the practitioner is found negligent and the jury wants to send a message to the practitioner and the medical profession as a whole. When a physician is found to be reckless and dangerous, for example, the court or medical licensing board may suspend her license or place conditions on it, such as requiring her to take continuing-education courses or be proctored by another physician.
When a legal judgment is held against a professional, she can't simply walk away. The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) must be notified of any payment of medical malpractice claims, so the information is available to other health care facilities where she may apply for practice privileges, even out of state. If she applies for a new position, the hospital's credentials committee must carefully screen for problems by making an inquiry to the NPDB and checking references from past employers.
Be wary of hospital gossip. Sometimes the "buzz" isn't true. Passing along incorrect information harms reputations and you might face legal consequences, such as charges of defamation.