Senator's plan for revising physician sanctions criticized

Two standards for proof of misconduct proposed

March 28, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger aimed yesterday to end a stalemate over the way doctors are disciplined in Maryland, but what she called a compromise was later rejected by opponents and the medical lobby as being unworkable.

She and other lawmakers who want to reform the system of punishment say few Maryland physicians are disciplined because the standard of proof is too high, making it difficult to win sanctions against those who have done wrong.

The Baltimore County Democrat and nurse has been trying to change the "clear and convincing" standard to the easier to prove "preponderance of evidence." Doctors argue that the standard should stay high in determining whether they keep their livelihood.

Yesterday she proposed a two-tiered system that would allow only the most egregious cases to be judged by the more difficult to prove standard, with lesser accusations requiring just the "preponderance of evidence."

The language would be added onto a bill she has on the Senate floor that would do away with the soon-to-expire and, in her view, flawed Board of Physician Quality Assurance and transfer its powers to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"Good doctors do not want bad apples in their bunch," Hollinger said yesterday after debate on the bill was postponed a day. "If this fails," she added, "then there will be no other bill."

Michael Preston, executive director of the Maryland State Medical Society, known as MedChi, dismissed Hollinger's newest proposal, saying it doesn't make sense to determine a doctor's punishment before determining his culpability.

"This provision looks like it came from Alice in Wonderland's Queen of Hearts - the one who yells `Off with their heads,'" he said. "She's got it backward."

MedChi officials have been lobbying senators to put the "clear and convincing" standard into the Hollinger bill.

"To me it looks a little strange," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and physician. "The punishment has to be determined first before you decide how you're going to look at the facts. I'm not sure it's workable."

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