Importance of Criminal Background Checks in the Medical Field

Over the past year, we have often covered the importance of pre-employment and employee background checks in all fields of work; with major emphasis on employee screenings in the medical field. This week, we are focusing again on the medical industry as serious threats have occurred to the safety of patients when fraudulent or dangerous doctors are on the loose. For instance, Allan Zarkin, a New York gynecologist was charged with first-degree assault for carving his initials into the abdomen of his patient who had just delivered her baby by caesarean section. Another famous New York case is of Michael Swango who is serving three life sentences for fatally poisoning three of his patients. Authorities in this industry have tightened the screening processes to avoid such incidents in the future.

What are the precautions being taken?
According to the American Medical News, ⅔ of the state medical boards across the nation conduct criminal background checks on their members with the intention that, “Physicians with a criminal record can “be denied a license, have restrictions placed on their practice or face no repercussions, depending on the will of the board in a particular state.” Also, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has, since 2006, suggested that applicants to medical schools should undergo criminal background checks. For 2012, 102 out of the 137 accredited medical schools in the nation have conducted checks on their applicants.

Different states, different laws
Each state has a different law and we have compared a few of them below:
1) California, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas are among 28 states where physicians are required to submit fingerprints, which are processed through state and federal bureaus of investigation databases.
2) The State Medical Board of Ohio also requires background checks when a physician applies to restore a medical license that has lapsed for more than two years. The board examines the severity of the offense, the punishment received, the time elapsed, the remedial measures taken, and the applicant’s truthfulness.
3) The Texas Medical Board runs periodic checks on medical professionals and compares its licensee database against the crime records of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The resultant action depends on the particular case, the type of crime and the physician’s truthfulness while filling the application. The only crimes that affect a license are felonies, a breach of morals or an improper use of medicine.
4) The Medical Board of California, which has required background searches since the early 1970s, evaluates all information about the licensee’s criminal history and checks to see how it might affect the physician’s qualifications, functions, or duties.
5) In North Carolina, most criminal records the board sees are the result of “youthful indiscretions” that were committed many years ago.
6) The Texas Medical Board’s action depends on the case, including the type of crime committed, when it was committed and whether the physician was honest in their application.

These stringent measures and invasion of privacy of medical professionals is concerning but they are necessary steps to protect the vulnerable patients. What should be taken into account is that all background screening processes should be conducted in an extremely professional manner, with utmost respect for an individual’s privacy.

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