The Maryland Board of Physicians should have its duties and powers more explicitly outlined by the General Assembly, and be split into two panels that can independently perform investigatory and disciplinary operations, according to an official review released Wednesday.
It should also "finalize and implement sanctioning guidelines for physicians and allied health professionals as soon as possible," the review said, and work to create additional, "informal processes for case resolution."
In all, 18 recommendations were made in the 57-page review of the board's functions by Dr. Jay Perman, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who took on the task after the General Assembly declined to reauthorize the panel this year despite it being slated to "sunset."
Perman's review follows a separate legislative report eight months ago that found the board was inefficient and slow in its work issuing disciplinary actions in cases involving the 43,000 health professionals it is responsible for licensing in the state.
"Our goal in writing the report and making recommendations was to assist the Board to streamline and more timely discharge its responsibilities to protect the public through licensing, regulation, and education while ensuring accountability, transparency, and fairness throughout the process," Perman wrote.
Eleven of the 18 recommendations were marked as "key" pieces of advice. They included suggestions for internal changes in how the board interacts with its staff, as well as external changes in how it deals with the state attorney general's office and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The review said the attorney general's office and DHMH officials should specify appropriate time frames for board actions.
The report also suggested changes to both how the board handles varying levels of severity in cases and complaints and who is required to be involved in its decision-making. .
The board should grow from 21 to 22 members, Perman wrote, and the General Assembly should split the group into two panels that could each make final determinations in medical-complaint cases. In specific complaint cases, one panel would investigate, while the other be in charge of discipline, the report said.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the state's health secretary, said he was "very pleased" with Perman's work, and that both he and the board's new executive director, Carole Catalfo, were eager to use its recommendations to move forward.
"I think the board sees this report as a major step in the right direction, as do I," he said. "My sense is that Dr. Perman was able to get to a level of practical detail that will really matter in making the board more effective, fair and responsive."
Sharfstein said the recommendation that the panel split in two will make the board more responsive and more fair by "eliminating bottlenecks and adding layered review at the same time."
He also said he agreed with the review's suggestion that the board more readily accept reasonable settlements in complaint cases and that it re-imagine its role in educating the public and medical professionals alike, before problems occur.
"If you can help patients identify problems, then problems can come to light sooner before more people get hurt," Sharfstein said. "Similarly, if you can educate the profession about common pitfalls, then maybe you can avoid those pitfalls."
Legislators will be able to consider the recommended changes during the 2013 session, officials said.