Tuesday, September 20, 2011

American-Statesman: New state law bans anonymous complaints against physicians

Karen M. Cheung – September 20, 2011

Following the fallout of two Winkler County whistle-blowing nurses who lost their jobs, a new Texas law that goes into effect this month bars the Texas Medical Board from considering anonymous complaints against physicians.

Adjusting the complaint process, House Bill 680 requires the Medical Board know the identity of those persons filing complaints, including pharmaceutical companies and insurers, while keeping those identities confidential, reports the American-Statesman.

The Texas rule follows the case of two Winkler County Memorial Hospital nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, who in 2009 sent an anonymous ethics complaint about physician Rolando Arafiles Jr. to the Texas Medical Board, accusing him of dangerous practices. Winkler County Sheriff Robert L. Roberts Jr. and friend to Dr. Arafiles identified the two nurses, which resulted in the nurses losing their jobs and indictment. Charges were dropped against Galle before trial, and Mitchell was found not guilty. The Medical Board put the physician on probation, and the Sheriff was found guilty of retaliation.

"Though I do not know if the Winkler County nurses would have filed their complaints if they had to attach their names, the new law would keep their names confidential," said State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) in the article.

Supporters and critics of the legislation argue how widespread its effects could be. Anonymous complaints make up 4 percent of the 6,849 complaints the Texas Medical Board received last year, according to the article. Patient safety advocates say that maintaining anonymity ensures protection from retaliation, while provider supporters say banning anonymous sources ensures valid complaints.

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