How Many Deaths Does It Take to Revoke a Doctor’s License?

When a bar serves alcoholic beverages to minors, the establishment often loses its license to sell alcohol. When a psychiatrist engages in an inappropriate relationship with a patient, he or she may lose the license to practice. The same is true for attorneys — as it should be.

But the professional standard is not quite so rigid for doctors.

A USA Today investigation found that thousands of doctors who have been banned from hospitals, fined for improperly prescribing drugs or have engaged in other professional misconduct are still licensed to practice medicine. Some did not even have their misconduct noted on their record due to a lack of action by the boards responsible for licensing doctors.

What does it take for one of those state boards to protect patients and revoke a dangerous doctor’s license to practice? This is the question we will examine in this two-part analysis from Oshman & Mirisola, LLP.

For one Texas practitioner, the deaths of two patients from medications he improperly prescribed, along with a history of other professional misconduct, still wasn’t enough for officials to take away his license to practice medicine.

A History of Misconduct

163816469Jennifer Chaney began seeing Dr. Greggory Phillips in 2008. Around Christmas of that year, he prescribed her oxycodone, a particularly potent painkiller, after she fell and injured herself. In the same visit, he also gave her a refill on her prescription for hydrocodone, another painkiller. Both are controlled substances.

Though such information was not publicly available, at that time Phillips was facing disciplinary charges alleging he loosely prescribed “dangerous drugs” and allowed his nurse to do the same with a pre-signed prescription pad, according to the USA Today piece. His license to issue prescriptions was previously revoked by the Texas medical board for violations and later reinstated.

And that wasn’t all. About a year earlier, a patient named Debra Horn had died of an overdose on medication Phillips prescribed.

By the time the Texas medical board hit Phillips with prescription drug violations related to Horn’s death, Chaney had become his second patient to die from drugs he prescribed. Her death, a week after Phillips prescribed her the painkillers, was declared accidental and attributed to drug intoxication. There appears to be no indication she deliberately abused the medications.

Years of Waiting

As charges pended against Phillips and two women were mourned by their families, the doctor continued to see patients and issue prescriptions. He continued to do so after the families of both women filed medical malpractice lawsuits against him. A ban keeping him out of a hospital near Fort Worth didn’t stop him from treating patients, either.

In April 2011, the state medical board fined Phillips, ordered him to take courses in pain management and mandated he pay for independent oversight at his office. He did not lose his license to practice medicine or to prescribe drugs to patients.

Less than a year later, the board determined Phillips had abused his authority to prescribe drugs even after the deaths of his two patients, and the board took away his ability to prescribe controlled substances. He remained a licensed doctor.

Phillips stopped practicing medicine soon after on his own accord, according to the article. Yet he still contested the board in February 2012 when they tried to bar him from treating patients for good. Once again the case was negotiated, and the end result allowed Phillips to keep his medical license. Significantly, though, he was allowed to work only in administrative roles and have no contact with patients.

“I kept waiting for them to stop him, and they just let him keep going,” Jennifer Chaney’s mother, Bette King, told USA Today.

Why So Long?

The executive director of the medical board in Texas told USA Today that the Phillips case took “longer than normal” but followed the laws governing the procedure for dealing with allegations of medical misconduct.

While we don’t imagine that explanation is sufficient for the family of Jennifer Chaney, it is not a lie. The process is long on time, short on resources and not focused on protecting patients, the article clearly illustrates. How does it work, exactly? In the near future, we will examine that in the second of this two-part analysis by Oshman & Mirisola.

The short answer? Not well.

We will also address another question – one with an answer much more vague. If the problem lies in the process itself, what is being done to fix the process?

Ted Oshman

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Ted Oshman has been with Oshman & Mirisola since 1988 serving clients for over 25 years. Learn more about Ted's background and featured practice areas here.

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