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Andrew Meyer Discusses Failures of Medical Boards in Response to Dr. Yvon Baribeau Report
WBUR, Radio Boston, September 12, 2022
Medical Malpractice Attorney Andrew C. Meyer, Jr. was a featured guest on WBUR's Radio Boston show in response to the explosive Boston Globe Spotlight Team investigation that exposed New Hampshire surgeon Yvon Baribeau's astounding 21 medical malpractice settlements, 14 of which included accusations of contributing to the death of a patient.
According to the Globe investigation, Baribeau's settlements are a record high among U.S. surgeons over the last two decades.
The interview, Exploring safeguards against medical malpractice for Mass. patients after Globe's exposé on N.H. surgeon, looks into medical ethics and medical malpractice in Massachusetts in light of the recent settlements in New Hampshire. Listen to the segment with Attorney Meyer below.
Click on the red arrow above, or this link to listen to the interview.
Read the transcript of the interview with Attorney Meyer below.
Meyer, an authority on medical malpractice law who has frequently spoken out about the failures of state medical boards to protect patients from dangerous doctors, describes the boards as self regulation systems that often protect doctors and institutions instead of patients.
See related pages discussing physician misconduct:
Transcript of WBUR interview with Andrew Meyer, September 12, 2022.
TIZIANA DEARING: This is Radio Boston, and I’m Tiziana Dearing. We start today looking at medical malpractice in the Commonwealth. With more than 40,000 practicing doctors according to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine, how good are we as a state at protecting against and following up on concerns over the dangerous practice of medicine?
We started thinking about this after a Boston Globe investigation last week into a New Hampshire-based heart surgeon...
[Audio from Boston Globe Spotlight investigation video:]
“He was promoted as a star surgeon, but his patients didn’t know about his troubled history. One that led to one of the worst malpractice settlement records in the country. His disturbing record left a trail of pain, damage and death, which the hospital seemed to ignore…”
That’s from a Boston Globe video about their story on Dr. Yvon Baribeau who worked at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire. The investigation found that Dr. Baribeau settled 21 medical malpractice claims. Fourteen of those original claims accused Dr. Baribeau of contributing to a patient’s death. That’s the most of any surgeon in the U.S. over the last two decades, according to the Globe.
MS. DEARING: Andrew (Drew) Meyer is here in Studio 2. He is a medical malpractice attorney and the founding partner of the Lubin & Meyer firm in Boston. Drew, thanks for coming to the show
ATTORNEY ANDREW MEYER: Good to be here.
MS. DEARING: Let me just start with your general reactions from what we heard from Dr. Hanto.
ATTORNEY MEYER: Well, I'm actually quite surprised that Dr. Hanto sees this the way he does. There is a severe problem, and has been, in Massachusetts in policing doctors for as long as I've been practicing. The Board of Registration of Medicine, which is the ultimate licensing authority to deal with complaints of doctors, has been inefficient and inept and one of the worst-ranked Boards in the country for monitoring substandard medicine.
MS. DEARING: Who does that ranking?
ATTORNEY MEYER: There's a national organization that lists the amount — the question's a very good question you asked, "Is 94 doctors disciplined versus 40,000 doctors, is that a good number and what are they ranking it on?" And what we do is on the state rankings, which is done — it's a national organization, the name of which I'm not exactly sure of — but they do, as ranked, it's always down at the bottom. There was a period of time around five or six years ago when the Board became a little bit more consumer-oriented and they were a little more careful with monitoring substandard medicine. I would venture to guess that of those 94 cases that you just mentioned, virtually none or very few had to do with substandard practice. And the problem is, is that the Board is not effective at monitoring negligence or substandard practice. What it does, is it will take care of the doctors who are doing illegal things — over-prescribing drugs, violating boundaries with patients, sexually and otherwise, particularly in psychiatric cases — because they're the quick and dirty kind of cases they can deal with. But from effectively monitoring whether or not they're practicing substandard medicine for the protection of the patients, they don't do a very good job.
MS. DEARING: So let's — I want to parse a bunch of that out before you go on, but I think it's the Public Citizen's Health Research Group that does those national rankings.
ATTORNEY MEYER: Yes.
MS. DEARING: All right. So when you say substandard, what I feel like you're keying in on is Dr. Hanto at the very end there, Drew, talked about negligence, right? I asked him what's the difference between a mistake and malpractice. That's what you mean by substandard, is that correct?
ATTORNEY MEYER: I do, yes. So the legal definition, which you asked Dr. Hanto about, is really the difference between people making mistakes, which is acceptable, or whether or not they do something which is in violation of the standards of care, which are really the rules of the road that doctors go by. And if they've violated some rule or standard that they should be adhering to, that's the negligence. A simple mistake doesn't warrant malpractice.
MS. DEARING: So how do we get to the point where we've got somebody who's working in surgical ethics who says we're in great shape and somebody — and structurally, I want to point out we picked a doctor and a malpractice lawyer, right? So we were looking for people who would present us...
ATTORNEY MEYER: Sure.
MS. DEARING: ... the full gamut of this perspective
ATTORNEY MEYER: Yes.
MS. DEARING: I mean, how do we get here?
ATTORNEY MEYER: I think it's a great question, and I think Dr. Hanto simply isn't exposed to the numbers in the way in which these matters are handled. The fact of the matter is, and I think he touched on a couple of things that he said, if we dove a little bit deeper into it we would find he talked about the economics of a hospital not wanting to expose its mistakes and its bad players because they think it'll hurt their reputation, and therefore hurt their economics and people won't want to come to that hospital. We find that, for instance, it's not information that's readily available or available at all, really, to patients or the public, the Morbidity and Mortality rounds that go on which review the types of things that Dr. Hanto was talking about. So even though it's known within the hospital sometimes who the bad players are, it isn't known to the public or the patients, and there's no — what we're looking at is how are the doctors who are policing themselves doing it? Are they adequate? Or are they protecting each other? And that's what we find more than anything, is that they're protecting each other, and they've sort of lost their way in what probably brought them into medicine in the beginning, which was to protect the patient and help the patient.
MS. DEARING: So, you know, we pride ourselves here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of being a health care mecca. You're laying out some real concern about competence in the oversight structure here in the state ranking quite low, actually. I think my next question for you, then, is in general, do we have a fairly healthy high-quality practitioner network in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?
ATTORNEY MEYER: It's a great — a great point. And I think that what we do have is we have some outstanding doctors. We have some of the most brilliant doctors not only in the country, but in the world. But we also have pockets of negligence, pockets of doctors in certain hospitals, particularly community hospitals, but also in the — we have — we have many cases against some of the big educational institutions: Mass. General, Beth Israel. Beth Israel had a huge amount of problems a number of years ago in regard to infections, something they didn't want to publicize under their surgical intensive care unit. But they don't want to tell the public about it because that's going to diminish the people that will come to that hospital. And there is competition amongst hospitals and the cost is great to them if they have bad publicity. So we're really looking at, yes, we have the best and the brightest, but we also have a lot of very bad players. And the problem is that the best and the brightest aren't always willing to point out or clean the house of those people who are the bad players. And they think it's hurting themselves. They're worried about their insurance rates. They're worried about their reputation of their hospitals, and they don't point out the problems that are occurring.
MS. DEARING: We're talking about medical malpractice in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Speaking now with Drew Meyer, who's a malpractice attorney and founding partner of Lubin & Meyer. So if somebody is concerned about actual negligence or substandard care, what are their steps?
ATTORNEY MEYER: Yeah, well, they have — if they want to know who to pick a doctor — how to find a doctor who isn't been accused of this, I mean, Dr. Hanto pointed out that the Board of Registration has a website, which one can go to for settlements. So that's just absolutely inadequate. The cases that are reported to the Board and that end up on websites are only cases that are settled. And they're settled after four or five years of litigation, and the only thing it reports is that there was a case settled and whether it was above average or below settlement value. That's the only information you get, and that happens after years. So if somebody is practicing substandard medicine, the patient is not aware of the fact, and has no — really no place to go to find out what the record of their doctor is. Because there is somewhat of a secrecy community amongst the doctors to protect each other. And the Board of Registration really is not as it should be, a consumer-oriented group. It's really overseen by the Mass. Medical Society, which is a group that's out there really to protect the doctors, and they stack it with people who are protecting doctors, and there's one person on there who is a person who's supposed to be the consumer advocate and the rest are all doctors.
MS. DEARING: So, Drew, you're painting a very dark picture here.
ATTORNEY MEYER: Yes...
MS. DEARING: Right? And I love that response...
ATTORNEY MEYER: ..I am.
MS. DEARING: ..."Yes, I am."
ATTORNEY MEYER: Yes.
MS. DEARING: So, and again, we had Dr. Douglas Hanto earlier from Harvard Medical School who painted a different picture. If you could give one piece of advice to somebody who says okay, I'm a little anxious now, I'm going to get some care that's important to me, how do I make sure I get optimal care or don't get substandard care, what's one step you would recommend patients take?
ATTORNEY MEYER: Well, a lot of word of mouth I think is the best. I always say, you can find out more about your toaster oven or your microwave, your refrigerator than you can about your doctor in Massachusetts, which is unfortunate. So what you need to do is you need to talk to people who have been treated with the doctor. I wouldn't go to the online reviews because those are stacked and aren't particularly effective. You can go — there are ways, but it's very sophisticated to find out how many lawsuits are brought against doctors, not how many settlements or how many make the website, but you need to talk to people who have been treated by the particular doctor.
MS. DEARING: So word of mouth?
ATTORNEY MEYER: Word of mouth is probably the best way, and results.
MS. DEARING: All right. So Andrew, or Drew Meyer, is a malpractice attorney and founding partner of the Lubin & Meyer law firm in Boston. Thanks for joining us to talk about medical malpractice here.
ATTORNEY MEYER: My pleasure.
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