National audit finds healthcare regulator needs to improve fair, equal and consistent discipline for healthcare professionals

National audit finds healthcare regulator needs to improve fair, equal and consistent discipline for healthcare professionals

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) — The Oregon Medical Board could be doing more to ensure fair and consistent disciplinary actions against health care professionals, according to a new audit released Wednesday by the Oregon State Audit Division.

OMB regulates health care professionals in Oregon under the Oregon Medical Practice Act. The main mechanisms through which this occurs are the issuance of licenses to healthcare professionals, the investigation of complaints and the disciplinary action against any licensee who breaches the Act. The commission receives 700 to 800 complaints a year.

Auditors found there are numerous opportunities for the board to better standardize its disciplinary procedures to ensure all licensees are treated consistently and fairly. Auditors do not review individual complaints or make judgments about their outcomes, but instead focus on system-level complaint outcomes.

Ensuring consistency can be tricky. Medical complaint cases are often complex and have unique circumstances that can affect the outcome. The two charges may appear similar, but the outcomes are completely different depending on the details of each case.

For example, suppose two patients experience similar complications during a particular type of surgery. One patient was already in poor health before surgery. Another patient was in good health, but the surgeon was inexperienced or had a history of negligent patient care. This can result in very different board decisions for each physician.

However, it is important that OMB remains consistent and fair in its regulation of health care professionals to protect patients as well as providers and maintain public trust.

“Regulations are often thought of as rules that must be followed to protect those who receive services,” said Audit Director Kip Memmott. “But effective regulation also protects those who provide services. When it comes to regulations that impact public health, people need to be confident that the rules are being enforced fairly and effectively.”

In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control officially declared racism a serious public health threat. Racism affects an individual’s ability to obtain housing, education, employment, and wealth—factors that experts call the social determinants of health. Racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of poor health and morbidity across a range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma and heart disease. These differences persist even after controlling for socioeconomic and other factors such as income and quality of health insurance coverage.

If licensees are unfairly disciplined, especially due to discrimination or even unconscious bias, it could limit the representation of people of color in the healthcare industry. This may lead to persistent disparities in medical and health outcomes in these communities.

Auditors also noted that OMB needs to be able to collect more comprehensive data. Currently, the commission’s data system does not capture complaint information in a way that can easily analyze disciplinary decisions. Improving this database will allow OMB to conduct routine, systematic data analysis to assess whether outcomes in similar cases are consistent and fair.

Read the full report on the Secretary of State’s website.

About the Oregon State Audit Department

The department exists to carry out the constitutional and statutory audit powers of the Secretary of State. We do this through audits to protect the public interest and improve Oregon government. Our vision is to be an independent, reliable, useful and timely source of information for the Governor, Legislature and people of Oregon about state government operations and programs; and to provide transparency and accountability for the use of public resources.

About the Oregon Secretary of State

The Oregon Secretary of State is one of three constitutional offices created at statehood. The Oregon Secretary of State is Oregon’s chief elections officer, chief auditor, chief archivist, and oversees business and nonprofit filings. The Secretary also serves as one of three members of the State Lands Commission and as chair of the Oregon Sustainability Council. Pursuant to Article V, Section 8a of the Oregon Constitution, if the office of Governor becomes vacant, the Secretary of State shall serve as Governor. As an independently elected constitutional official, the Secretary of State is accountable directly and solely to the people of the State of Oregon.

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