Doctors Prepare To Take Recertification Tests; California Case Examines Patient Safety

The Associated Press: "For the first time since leaving medical school, many doctors are having to take tests to renew board certification in their fields — 147 specialties from dermatology to obstetrics. Any doctor can deliver a baby, treat cancer, or declare himself a cardiologist. Certification means the doctor had special training in that field and passed an exam to prove knowledge of it. They used to do this once and be certified for life. That changed in the 1990s — doctors certified since then must retest every six to 10 years to prove their skills haven't gone stale. ... Older doctors also are feeling the heat. ... [They] are being urged to retest voluntarily to show they still know their stuff. Most don't want to do this" (Marchione, 4/5). 

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports on a patient safety case involving Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, a doctor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, operating on a man with a brain tumor. "But when a delicate pair of forceps failed, the surgeon aborted the operation. There was no functioning spare set on hand. The May 2005 incident resulted in a lawsuit, which Cedars-Sinai resolved in a confidential settlement." However, Shahinian also filed a lawsuit against the hospital and left the staff in late 2005. "An arbitrator in that case ruled last November that the hospital had forced him out by improperly restricting his ability to perform surgeries." The arbitrator "ordered the hospital to pay Shahinian $4.7 million, including $2.6 million in punitive damages meant to deter the hospital from retaliating against doctors who voice concerns about patient safety." According to a lawyer for the hospital, patient safety was never compromised, but the arbitrator had a different view. "In her 130-page decision, she wrote that despite pleas from the doctor and operating room staff for more surgical tools, Cedars-Sinai for years 'displayed a disregard for health and safety of patients by not providing adequate redundancy of instruments for Shahinian's surgeries.' ... In an interview, Shahinian said that in the five years before he left Cedars-Sinai, more than 100 surgeries were affected. Most were cancellations or delays that occurred after instrument problems were discovered but before the operations began. But he estimated that more than a dozen times he was forced to turn back after patients had already been anesthetized" (Zarembo, 4/6).

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