Tilting at Windmills

November/ December 2011 Medical laissez-faire

By Charles Peters

“At least 15 drug and medical device companies have paid $6.5 billion since 2008 to settle accusations of marketing fraud or kickbacks,” reports the Washington Post. These kickbacks were typically paid to the doctors who prescribed the drugs. Yet, reports the Post, “not one of the doctors has been prosecuted or disqualified by state medical boards.”

This reminds me of the time when I was approached by a local physician after I’d written several items expressing skepticism about some of the lawyers who bring medical malpractice cases. The doctor thought I might become an ally in opposing these lawsuits. I told him I was ready to support replacing malpractice litigation with a system of no-fault compensation for injured patients, but that I had one reservation: without the threat of lawsuits, I saw no way of punishing unethical or incompetent physicians, who, to my knowledge, were rarely (meaning very close to never) disciplined by their local medical societies or state licensing boards. I said it was a problem that could be solved by adding enough independent members to the doctor-dominated groups that govern accountability in the medical profession. If physicians would support such a reform, I said, I would be glad to join their effort. I never heard from that doctor again.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • Owen Gallagher on December 27, 2011 11:02 PM:

    An early attempt at Peer Review died when the accused "incompetent quack" sued all of the members of the peer review committee. Well. What is left of medical quality control is the ambulance chasing lawyer. This was the end of several peer review boards.

    I recall a case about a Dr Nork many years ago that was printed up in journal Medical Economics. The Nurses were reported to have said that they would not send their dog to him but the doctors thought he was OK. He was undone by a lawyer who at first did not believe his plaintiff and plaintiff brought other injured patients who he had met in the doctor's waiting room to get the lawyer to believe him. It is my understanding that he was finally forced out of operation by inability to get malpractice insurance after several judgments. Admittedly an inefficient quality control system.