CONCORD, N.H. — A lawmaker expressed shock Monday that the New Hampshire Board of Medicine does not automatically inform the public when a physician has been disciplined by their hospital for questionable conduct.
“This doesn’t pass the common sense test,” said state Representative Jess Edwards, a Republican from Auburn. “If a hospital has rendered restrictions of duties or disciplinary action ... that becomes of interest to the public. And it seems like even if the Board of Medicine were just behaving like a bullfighter and waving the bull through the cape, you would still want to report to the public that a lot of bull is coming through.”
Edwards’s comments came at a hearing of a New Hampshire legislative subcommittee charged with examining the state’s medical board in the wake of a Boston Globe Spotlight Team two-part series in September. The stories exposed that a heart surgeon from Manchester, Dr. Yvon Baribeau, had a pristine record on the medical board’s website, despite having 21 malpractice settlements and a 28-day suspension of privileges by Catholic Medical Center due to inappropriate care to patients.
During the hearing, Edwards and other subcommittee members learned from state officials that hospital-based discipline is only made public if the action is subsequently reinforced by additional discipline by the state board of medicine. If the state board doesn’t act, the hospital discipline is kept confidential.
The subcommittee was created by the state’s Health and Human Services Oversight Committee to come up with potential recommendations to change public reporting requirements. After Monday’s session, lawmakers who had hoped to finish this year said the task was too daunting and they needed more time.
“There needs to be a specific exploration of what level of hospital and institutional involvement has to be reported on the website, and that is not a determination I am prepared to make today and vote on today,” said Representative Lucy Weber, a Democrat of Walpole, N.H.
Through several meetings this fall, the subcommittee has heard testimony from a wide range of speakers, including a relative of one of Baribeau’s patients, attorneys representing plaintiffs in other malpractice cases, physicians, and state officials.
On Monday, Jim Potter, the chief executive of the New Hampshire Medical Society, and N.H. Hospital Association President Steve Ahnen addressed the panel, falling short of taking a stance on the most controversial topics, and emphasizing their desire to work with lawmakers.
“We want to be a part of this conversation going forward to ensure that we are doing the right things but we’re also not penalizing those providers who are doing well and doing the right things,” Ahnen said.
Representative Mark Pearson, a Hampstead Republican serving as chairman of the subcommittee, said he and other members will draft legislation to create a special commission to further explore the issue next year.
The subcommittee’s draft report called for the Board of Medicine to make public all disciplinary actions, including “any voluntary or involuntary restriction of privileges,” regardless of whether the discipline is handed down by the hospital or the board itself. The report also urges the Board of Medicine to seek additional funding.
Holly Haines, an attorney whose firm handled many of the settlements involving Baribeau and CMC, expressed concern that the draft recommendations don’t go far enough. “Our concern is that this isn’t going to change anything because there are no teeth,” she told the committee.
One sticking point for the committee has been if, or how, to publicize malpractice claims settled out of court. Pearson has previously said he would oppose forcing the board to post all settlements out of concern that a doctor’s reputation could be tarnished by “frivolous” lawsuits.
But on Monday, Pearson said he’d consider supporting a system that weighs the severity of the alleged wrongdoing by a physician.
A Globe review has found that among the states that post settlements, many try to provide some context to help the public assess the information. In Georgia, for instance, the board publicizes settlements that are above a certain dollar amount; and in Massachusetts, the board generally indicates if the settlement was on the high, average, or low side for doctors in that specialty.
Speaking to a Globe reporter after the meeting, Pearson said, “I only want to know if he was a bad doctor, if he was drunk in the operating room and had to be dragged out by a nurse ... [or] if he was on call and didn’t come in for no good reason,” he continued. “Those are things I want the public to know about.”