‘Significant’ bill protecting patient safety comes thanks to KXAN investigation, lawmaker says

Editor’s note: The video above shows KXAN News Today’s top headlines for March 10, 2023. Watch reporter Matt Grant’s investigation tonight at 9 and 10.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A state representative says he introduced a “significant” patient safety bill in direct response to a series of KXAN investigations into systems that allow problem doctors to continue practicing in Texas.

“KXAN discovered an issue, brought it to my attention,” said Representative Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch. “We’ve had discussions. I’ve met with policyholders. We’ve come together to form, I believe, a piece of legislation that can have a significant impact on healthcare safety and patient safety.”

On an overcast day at the Texas Capitol, supporters point to Johnson’s bill as a bright spot. If passed, House Bill 1998 would require the Texas Medical Board to continually search the National Practitioner Data Bank for up-to-date physician disciplinary and criminal records, both ensuring they are made public faster and stopping physicians with revoked licenses in other states from practicing in Texas.

Read Rep. Johnson’s patient safety bill

Thirteen months ago, KXAN found nearly 50 physicians with suspended, surrendered or revoked licenses in other states able to practice or still practicing in Texas with a clean criminal record on their public physician profile.

“Your report, Matt, has brought to light a lot of troubling facts,” Ware Wendell told KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant, who has been following the story for months. Wendell is the executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Texas Watch, which has testified in favor of the bill. He added that the state needs to make sure the Texas Medical Board is “doing its job.”

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Johnson said the TMB was receptive and helped work together to make his bill “better.” Officially, the TMB’s position is that it is “neutral” and does not comment on pending legislation. The TMB blamed funding and staffing issues for being unable to keep its public medical portal up-to-date, Johnson said.

Wendell said there is a “patient safety crisis” that is preventable in Texas and across the country. On Monday, he and other advocates urged lawmakers at a House Public Health Committee hearing to pass Johnson’s bill.

“Matt Grant with KXAN has done the yeoman’s job of identifying problems at the medical board,” Wendell told lawmakers. “Find…nearly 50 doctors who have had problems in other states but practiced here in Texas and we are unaware of them as members of the public. Why? Because the Texas Medical Board wasn’t doing their job.

The Texas Hospital Association said it has “concerns” about a planned requirement to report disciplinary actions lasting less than 30 days to the TMB. The National Practitioner Data Bank, a confidential federal clearinghouse of physician disciplinary actions, only collects actions that are more than 30 days old.

The THA said it was concerned about the “practical impact” of hospitals reporting “minor offences” and “administrative offences”.

For Johnson, it’s about transparency, accountability and patient protection.

“The public has a right to know,” Johnson said. “Especially, if that disciplinary action is a result of patient care.”

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