The New Jersey board ranks low in disciplining physicians for medical errors (2023)

The board that oversees medical errors in New Jersey has been ousted

93 percent of complaints against doctors in the last year.

This panel has filed 1,017 complaints against some of New Jersey's approximately 33,000 licensed physicians. This resulted in 24 license revocations or voluntary resignations and 45 license suspensions, which are considered the most severe sanctions against physicians.

For nearly half of the disciplinary actions, New Jersey's physician-dominated Board followed the lead of medical boards in other states that investigated negligent, delinquent or incompetent physicians. These boards shared their findings with NewJersey, which simply duplicated the boards' findings and took similar action.

Public Citizen, a Washington nonprofit watchdog group, says the NewJersey Board of Medical Examiners isn't diligent enough to take action against incompetent or negligent doctors. The board consists of 14 doctors, a nurse, three members of the public and an accountant.

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"Something is wrong in New Jersey," said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, who serves as the group's director of health research. Wolfe wrote a report for Public Citizen in April about the medical discipline.

"You wouldn't be ranked as low as they are," he said. "There are other states of about the same size that are constantly disciplining more doctors."

The group compared the number of board disciplinary penalties to the number of physicians in each state and concluded that New Jersey imposed comparatively few serious penalties on physicians. New Jersey was ranked 40th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in a report released in April. This was a slight change from last year's 41st place.

The Alaska board was the most restrictive, with nearly eight serious disciplinary sanctions for every 1,000 doctors. Minnesota issued the fewest settlement penalties, with just one measure per 1,000 physicians. New Jersey approved two doctors for every 1,000 approvals, a rate that has stayed the same for the past three years.

The president of the New Jersey Medical Board, Dr. Paul C. Mendelowitz, declined to answer questions about his apparent lack of medical discipline. Reports are not public records.

Public Citizen found that most medical boards in the United States had weak oversight of physicians.

“We're not saying the best states shouldn't do even better. But if New Jersey did as good a job as Kentucky, they'd get two to three times the action," Wolfe said.

The Wolfe, Kentucky example has ranked in the top three nationally in the medical discipline since 2003 and has sanctioned six of 1,000 licensed physicians in the past year.

Of the 110 lawsuits filed against New Jersey physicians in 2009, 54 resulted from criminal complaints against physicians or investigations and disciplinary actions by medical boards outside of the states in which those physicians were licensed.

"The cases that require the least work are the cases that require the most action," said Wolfe of Public Citizen.

“Most labor-intensive lawsuits are allegations of poor medical practices. It's easier for the Executive Board than if they had to start from scratch. You have to dig," she said.

best boards

Public Citizen reports that the best boards have adequate funding and staff to launch proactive investigations, rather than relying on complaints or other statements to identify problematic doctors. They use various sources, including Medicare and Medicaid penalties, medical malpractice claims, and hospital databases that show where each doctor's medical privileges have been revoked or suspended.

For example, Ohio, a state with a population comparable to New Jersey, ranked fourth in the medical discipline. According to the report, Ohio has taken 58 serious disciplinary actions against the state's 39,125 licensed physicians. The Ohio State Medical Board has an annual budget of $8.6 million and 87 full-time employees, including 21 investigators.

The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners has an annual budget of $11.3 million and a backlog of about 85 open investigations, the equivalent of a month's worth of complaints.

"We have another 80 inquiries that our law enforcement agencies are monitoring for the board," said Jeff Lamm, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

The board has 47 full-time employees but no dedicated investigators. Instead, it relies on a core group of employees within the State's Office of Compliance, which runs all of New Jersey's professional regulatory agencies, including chiropractors, nurses and dentists, Lamm said.

Ohio board spokeswoman Joan Wehrle said the Ohio board is independent from other agencies. As a result, you don't have to share resources and your budget is allocated directly from license fees. This gives the Ohio Board of Directors the independence to fulfill its mission and drive out bad doctors.

"They're really proactive in setting policy," Wehrle said. “We have the legal authority to make rules. Our regulations have the force and effect of laws. So we have a real voice and a real opinion on how health care is practiced in this state. Not all states have that authority,” he said.


Many medical errors are only discovered in court in medical malpractice cases.

"I've seen a lot of doctors who had to go through some kind of refresher training or license restrictions," said David Fried, a Chatham attorney.

Represented Atlantic City resident Lashanda Langston in a 2006 malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who delivered her baby in 2002. The baby's arm was injured during the delivery. Five years later, the boy still couldn't raise his arm above his head, state court records show. After a court settlement, the boy will receive $275,000 in installments when he turns 18.

"I don't feel like the board is doing much for oversight," Fried said.

While the New Jersey Medical Association scores low on sanctions, Public Citizen said the agency's website is the best in the country for public outreach. The website provides narrative details of all cases where sanctions are imposed. Patients can search by name for any complaint filed against their doctor and see what compensation they have paid for medical malpractice in the last five years.

Doctors facing lawsuits in New Jersey are not automatically subject to sanctions by the Medical Association. In fact, the committee's website provides context on the average number of comparisons a doctor is likely to undergo given her specialty.

Even so, some of the cases uncovered in the court documents appear to warrant the board's consideration.

In 2006, Claudia Tapia, an Ocean City resident, was treated at ShoreMemorial Hospital in Somers Point for an abnormal mass in her left breast. The doctor performed an ultrasound-guided puncture procedure. Her lawsuit, filed in Atlantic City state superior court last year, alleges the doctor lost a guidewire in her chest and never told her.

Tapia had a partial mastectomy. Laboratory tests did not reveal cancer. Before the surgery, the hospital took x-rays that showed the missing wire. Still, no one at the hospital said anything to Tapia, he said in his lawsuit. Tapia's attorney, Dominic C. Guerrini, declined to comment.

After the mastectomy, Tapia suffered unexplained chest pain for the next 16 months. The pain got so bad that on February 4, 2008, she had to go back to the hospital. Diagnostic tests found the missing wire. It had migrated into her heart, dangerously close to her aorta, she said in court documents. The hospital released Tapia and ordered her to see a heart specialist, her lawsuit says.

On February 13, 2008, he went to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center complaining of shortness of breath and extreme chest pain. Surgeons performed emergency surgery to remove the wire.

None of the doctors cited in the Tapia or Langston lawsuits were sanctioned by the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners. Because board investigations are not subject to public scrutiny, the public will never know whether the boards investigated the court's allegations.

Shore Memorial Hospital declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing patient confidentiality, spokeswoman Courtney Spahr said.

Attorney Abbott S. Brown, a medical malpractice lawyer, said the board is not doing enough to educate the public about its role and file a complaint.

“I handle about three cases out of every 100 that call me. I often tell the other 97 that they have the option to file a state complaint. Hardly any of them are aware of it,” she said.

He suggested that the board publish all complaints, not just the board's actions. This is how the National Transportation Safety Board treats plane crashes.

“When was the last time two planes collided on a runway? You can't remember because it never happens. They have taken steps to correct and prevent this,” she said. "A little sun helps."

Brown said the medical board could begin exploring civil lawsuits.

Medical malpractice cases carry a higher burden of proof for patients than many other types of civil litigation in New Jersey. Typically, the patient has to find two other doctors, most often board specialists, to sign an affidavit agreeing that the accused doctor made inappropriate errors.

“There are no frivolous malpractice lawsuits. I have to have doctors of the same specialty who swear that the case is valid,” Brown said. "In a state of 8.5 million people, there are fewer than 1,500 medical malpractice lawsuits in a single year."

Few bugs reported

Medical professionals, hospitals and clinics rarely report errors seen by other doctors, Brown said. This makes the Board of Medical Examiners forget about intractable problems.

“To this day, there is a conspiracy of silence in the medical profession to protect their own. Maybe behind closed doors they will discuss what went wrong, but they won't make it public,” he said.

Because a single doctor can have dozens or even hundreds of patients, medical associations can make a big difference in the health of a community.

"The multiplier effect of allowing bad doctors to practice medicine is tremendously bad for public health," Wolfe said.

Agencies, including those in New Jersey, regularly share information about disciplinary actions with other state agencies. This is important because many doctors are licensed in multiple states.

“It is a very important way to protect the public. If a doctor has problems in one state, she will look for that geographical solution and practice where she has privileges in other places. That doesn't help anybody," Wehrle said.

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Who regulates doctors in New Jersey? ›

The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners' primary responsibility and obligation is to protect the citizens of New Jersey through proper licensing and regulation of physicians and some other health care professionals.

What are the 4 D's of medical negligence? ›

To protect yourself from medical malpractice and seek justice whenever needed, it is vital to be aware of the four D's: duty, direct cause, damages, and dereliction of duty.

How do I file a complaint against a doctor in New Jersey? ›

Otherwise, you may make an anonymous complaint at the Department of Health complaint hotline by calling 800-792-9770, 24 hours a day.

How do I contact the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners? ›

Complaints about New Jersey physicians are processed by the Board of Medical Examiners, a subsidiary of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Additionally, the Board of Medical Examiners may be reached by phone at (609) 826-7100.

Who keeps doctors accountable? ›

State medical boards collect and maintain information about disciplinary actions taken against physicians. This information is available to the public. Find the contact information for your state medical board.

Who are doctors accountable to? ›

The GMC's Code of Conduct states that it is accountable to “the public through parliament and the Privy Council.” Yet the Medical Act (1983) that establishes its legal basis does not mention parliament, instead saying that it will “be constituted as provided for by order of the Privy Council.” This was noted by the ...

What is dereliction of duty of a physician? ›

Dereliction is when a medical professional fails to meet the duty of care. In other words, the medical professional did not provide the patient with the care and treatment needed and expected of a reasonably competent physician under the same or similar circumstances.

What are the four things that have to happen to be negligent? ›

A negligence claim requires that the person bringing the claim (the plaintiff) establish four distinct elements: duty of care, breach, causation, and damages.

What are the five 5 elements of negligence? ›

Doing so means you and your lawyer must prove the five elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, cause, in fact, proximate cause, and harm.

Who do you complain too about a doctor? ›

The Health Care Complaints Commission is independent of the public health system. It receives and assesses complaints about health care practitioners and health care services (generally referred to as health service providers). Anyone can lodge a complaint with the Commission.

What is a medical examiner called out for? ›

The Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office is charged with determining both the manner of death, (homicide, suicide, accident, natural cause), and the actual medical reason or cause of death.

What happens after MMI in NJ? ›

Once you have reached your MMI, your therapy treatment, pain management, medication, and/or surgery options will cease, but you will be able to proceed with your claim petition and seek monetary compensation for your injury.

Can doctors charge for medical records NJ? ›

Pursuant to the bill, total costs for reproductions of a medical record, whether the record is stored electronically, on microfilm or microfiche, or on paper, are capped at $50, inclusive of any additional administrative fees charged by the hospital or health care professional for reproducing the requested records.

Can doctors be punished for their mistakes? ›

If a doctor makes a mistake, a patient's current recourse is to litigate in civil court. In order for a doctor to be held criminally responsible, a prosecutor must determine that their conduct rises to a criminal standard, such as assault or manslaughter.

Are doctors held accountable for mistakes? ›

When you're a doctor, making a mistake can cost patients a limb or their lives. As such, civil law allows patients to hold doctors accountable for these mistakes.

Who is responsible for medical errors? ›

In most cases, the doctor responsible for the malpractice is the only person liable for medical errors. The reason being that it was their diagnosis and their failure of medical skill that led to the malpractice.

Do doctors get disciplined? ›

When a board receives a complaint about a physician, the board has the power to investigate, hold hearings and impose discipline, including suspension, probation or revocation of a physician's license, public reprimands, and fines.

Can doctors be punished? ›

Doctors can be prosecuted for obvious criminal activity like violations of statutory provisions of Acts like the Transplantation of Human Organs Act.

Who should be held accountable for mistakes in diagnosis and treatment? ›

Doctors should be held accountable because they provide a product result knowing how to operate on patients . Doctors should n't be held accountable based on the results of an unsuccessful operation as long as they followed the widely accepted medical practices . It depends on the situation really .

What are the 3 liabilities of a physician? ›

95/ 2006 on healthcare reform in the medical malpractice domain stipulates that medical staff can be held accountable in the following forms: disciplinary liability, administrative liability, civil liability and criminal liability.

What is physician incompetence? ›

More global incompetence occurs when a physician demonstrates a pattern of ignorant or unskillful practice (Morreim) and may not be easily correctable by simply providing education at the time.

What is doctor's professional misconduct? ›

Abuse of professional position by committing adultery or improper conduct with a patient or by maintaining an improper association with a patient will render a physician liable for disciplinary action as provided under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 or the concerned State Medical Council Act.

What 3 things must you prove to have a case for negligence? ›

Proving Negligence. Most civil lawsuits for injuries allege the wrongdoer was negligent. To win in a negligence lawsuit, the victim must establish 4 elements: (1) the wrongdoer owed a duty to the victim, (2) the wrongdoer breached the duty, (3) the breach caused the injury (4) the victim suffered damages.

What is the most difficult element of negligence to prove? ›

Causation. The third element of negligence can be the most difficult to prove in some cases. There must be a clear link between the breach of duty and the cause of the victim's injury.

What is the most common reason patients sue their doctors? ›

1. Failure to diagnose or a delay in diagnosis. The most common allegation is failure to diagnose in a timely manner; the most common disease for this allegation is breast cancer.

What is breach of duty of care? ›

A breach of duty occurs when one person or an organisation has a duty of care toward another person or organisation but fails to live up to that standard. A person may be liable for negligence in a personal injury case if their breach of duty caused another person's injuries or mental ill health.

What is breach of duty of care negligence cases? ›

Breach of duty. Breach of duty in negligence liability may be found to exist where the defendant fails to meet the standard of care required by law. Once it has been established that the defendant owed the claimant a duty of care, the claimant must also demonstrate that the defendant was in breach of duty.

What is it called when a doctor mistreats you? ›

Malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor, or other healthcare professional injures a patient through errors in diagnosis, treatment, or aftercare. A valid medical malpractice claim must show that the doctor violated a standard of care recognized by law.

How many complaints do doctors get? ›

Nearly all GPs (97%) who responded to a survey from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said they had received a complaint against them during the course of their career, with slightly lower figures for consultants (88%) and trainees (71%).

Why do patients complain about doctors? ›

Complaints may be a way for patients to express their anger or frustration, or they may be the result of breakdown in communication. They are also often made without an understanding of how the healthcare system really works, or without an awareness of the factors that can influence the quality of care delivered.

What is considered unethical behavior by a doctor? ›

Working while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Becoming romantically involved with patients or family members of a patient. Cherry-picking patients. Breaching patient confidentiality (violating HIPAA regulations)

What happens to a doctor who violates medical ethics? ›

Any action taken by a medical professional that violates the principles of non-maleficence, beneficence, patient autonomy, or justice could potentially rise to the level of medical malpractice.

How do you deal with a Gaslighting doctor? ›

If it is at all possible, bring a family member or friend to important appointments. They may hear something you don't, or they may ask a question you may not have thought of. They can also chime in if a doctor attributes your symptoms to something that you know it is not related to, such as stress or weight.

What is unprofessional behavior in healthcare? ›

In general, examples of unprofessional conduct include, but are not limited to, physical abuse of a patient, inadequate record keeping, not recognizing or acting upon common symptoms, prescribing drugs in excessive amounts or without legitimate reason, personal impairment (mental or physical) that hinders safely ...

What is unacceptable patient behavior? ›

These include verbal abuse, threats, assaults, drug-seeking behavior, failure to comply with recommended medical treatment, sexual harassment and more.

Can you take legal action against a doctor? ›

Can I Sue My GP for Negligence? You have a legal right to claim compensation from your GP if the treatment they provided was sub-standard and caused you to suffer an avoidable injury and loss.

Is NJ health commissioner a doctor? ›

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli (MA, BSN, RN), a nurse who led New Jersey's widely praised public health response to COVID-19, was one of four outstanding graduates inducted into Rutgers University's Hall of Distinguished Alumni during a November 4 ceremony at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton.

How long do you have to sue a doctor for malpractice in NJ? ›

What is the statute of limitations for NJ medical malpractice claims? New Jersey law stipulates that you have two years in which to file a medical malpractice claim. The two-year clock typically begins ticking on the date the medical mistake/your injury occurred, but not always.

What is unethical for a doctor to do? ›

Working while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Becoming romantically involved with patients or family members of a patient. Cherry-picking patients. Breaching patient confidentiality (violating HIPAA regulations)

What are grounds for medical negligence? ›

To prove negligence, you need to show that a healthcare professional failed in their duty to take care of you, and you experienced a damage or loss as a result of that failure. Damage or loss can include both physical and psychiatric injury, as well as financial loss.

What is medical negligence? ›

Medical negligence occurs when a medical or healthcare professional deviates from the care standards of their profession and causes injury to a patient.

Can doctors force treatment on you? ›

You have the right to refuse treatment.

This includes the right to refuse medication prescribed to you. If you want to refuse treatment, you should discuss your reasons for refusal and other options with your care team. Health professionals cannot threaten to section you to force you to consent to treatment.

Who is the boss over doctors? ›

Primary duties: A medical director is the highest level of a doctor, and they hold the most power and responsibility in a hospital or clinic. They coordinate and direct medical and health services for an entire facility or a medical department within a facility.

Who is the boss in the medical field? ›

Chief Executive Officer.

A hospital CEO is responsible for the operations of the entire hospital or hospital chain. This person is the final decision-maker on all aspects of operations, strategy, policy and finance.

Who is the head of the NJ dept of health? ›

Judith M. Persichilli, R.N., B.S.N., M.A., Commissioner.

What is the cap on medical malpractice in NJ? ›

So far, New Jersey has not set an upper limit on compensatory damages (financial losses as well as noneconomic damages) in medical malpractice cases. But in any injury case, New Jersey Statutes section 2A:15-5.14 limits punitive damages to $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

Is there a cap on medical malpractice in New Jersey? ›

New Jersey has not enacted any significant caps or limits on the maximum amount of damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases. New Jersey does have a cap on punitive damages, which are limited to $350,000 or 5 times the amount of regular damages.

What is the cap on medical malpractice in New Jersey? ›

Medical malpractice has the same cap for punitive damages as other suits. The plaintiff is entitled to up to $350,000 or five times the compensatory damages. Compensatory damages themselves have no limit.


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