NC auditor, Medical Board at odds over review results
Published 12:00 am Friday, January 13, 2023
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s state auditor and the panel that disciplines physicians clashed over a performance review released Thursday in which auditors said they were hamstrung scrutinizing how the state Medical Board handled provider complaints because the panel denied them information.
The board pushed back, saying that state and federal law prohibits it from giving access to details about over 4,400 investigations covering a two-year period ending in June 2021 sought by auditors because they contained confidential medical and investigative information. The auditors received heavily redacted documents instead. Board officials also said they disagreed with other findings in the review.
State Auditor Beth Wood’s office said state law ensures that all information obtained and used in an audit remains confidential. The audit recommended that the legislature pass a law to affirm access to such documentation while conducting audits.
The auditors said they did receive slightly more information in their review about the roughly 200 additional investigations that resulted in public action against a licensee. In these documents, the review’s authors declared that the board failed to complete investigations of medical providers within six months — what they called a state law requirement. And it failed to ensure that providers receive disciplinary actions for wrongdoing — such as license restrictions or agreements to not practice medicine for a period.
“As a result, there was an increased risk that medical providers whose actions posed a threat to patient safety could continue serving patients,” the report read.
In a response attached to the final review, Medical Board CEO David Henderson wrote that Wood’s office is mistaken that investigations must be completed in six months. And the board’s program to monitor wayward providers wasn’t designed to ensure that those who lose their medical license never practice again, saying that’s a criminal matter left to prosecutors, Henderson wrote.
The auditor’s office agreed that it “had received no complaints that prompted the audit and that there have been no allegations and there is no evidence that (the board) ever failed to review all complaints, administer discipline in an equitable manner or report all its public actions,” Henderson said.
Still, the limited access to investigative documents prevented Wood’s office from auditing four of the six objectives sought for review. Those were largely focused on whether the board followed the law, its policies and best practices when investigating complaints on allegations like substandard medical care, sexual misconduct or overprescribing medication, the report said.
And auditors also accused the Medical Board of making “several inaccurate and potentially misleading statements” within their written response to the performance review.
The 13-member board — 11 were appointed by the governor and the remainder picked by legislative leaders — licensed over 57,000 physicians, physician assistants and other medical professionals at the end of the 2021.
The board, which runs on licensing fees only, said its staff investigates almost 3,000 cases annually. It can decide that no violation of the state’s Medical Practice Act occurred; find no violation occurred but still issue privately a warning or order remedial action; or determine a violation occurred and take public action against the provider, up to and including license revocation.
Henderson wrote that the board has taken steps to improve areas of concern cited by the state auditor and was willing to hire an outside firm to perform an outside audit to address the objectives.