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Complaints against Oklahoma doctors increase with new online form

A new online tool designed to help people lodge complaints against medical doctors and other health care professionals is working, an official said during a recent Oklahoma Medical Board meeting.
by Andrew Knittle Published: June 23, 2013
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Disciplinary action

While the board receives hundreds of complaints against licensees each year, a cursory examination of its records shows that only a small percentage lead to some kind of disciplinary action.

Between 2008 and 2012, the medical board never took action against more than 42 doctors in a given year.

In 2012, for instance, 34 medical doctors either had a formal complaint filed against them or were disciplined in some way by the medical board.

That same year the medical board received 397 complaints against doctors, who are the focus of most of the gripes received by the agency.

The medical board has fielded between 308 and 518 complaints since 2001, record show.

Increases in complaints, in the past, have come following some sort of proactive move by the medical board. Between 2006 and 2009, the board aired public service announcements on radio and television and staffed an informational booth at the Oklahoma State Fair.

Varghese said the new online complaint form has “doubled” the medical board's caseload but expressed little concern about his staff's ability to handle the larger workload.

“We have a group that meets every week to discuss the complaints,” he said. “We have streamlined a lot of things we do with automation, so we manage to use the resources that are available to us.”

Varghese said every complaint is looked at by investigators, although some of them are easy to eliminate early on.

“A lot of them are against nurses, dentists ... others we don't license,” he said. “Not a big percentage, but it's some, for sure.”

Other complaints against doctors and other licensees “just aren't violations.”

“It may seem like the doctor is in violation of the terms of his license, but sometimes complaints just aren't violations,” Varghese said.

But for most complaints, the common fate is one of uncertainty.

“About 50 percent of the complaints end up being an open investigation,” Varghese said, adding that he wasn't sure exactly how many open cases exist in the board's files.

“So, that shows we actually go in and look at them.”

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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