State examines doctors' pasts
By WES ALLISON
© St. Petersburg Times,
Of the 45,000 medical doctors licensed in Florida, state health officials discovered recently, about 2,000 have a criminal record.
Now authorities are finding and disciplining those who failed to report their convictions to the state Board of Medicine.
This weekend, at its meeting in Fort Lauderdale, the medical board heard from about a dozen doctors accused of failing to report their convictions when they filled out their Practitioner Profiling forms, which are available for public inspection on the state Department of Health Web site.
This marked the first large group of physicians to come before the board for failing to report their convictions. State officials said most offenses are relatively minor, such as possession of marijuana. Some of the crimes happened 20 years ago.
But investigating them all is likely to take months.
"If we have this number now, I would say that we would probably get more," said Pat Glynn, a spokesman for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which investigates and prosecutes charges of misconduct against physicians.
Two years ago, the Legislature set up the Practitioner Profiling system, which allows people to use the Internet to quickly find out if a doctor has been convicted of a crime, paid a malpractice claim of more than $5,000, or has been disciplined by a state medical board in the past 10 years.
Patient advocates have lauded public access to the profiles, but they also have complained that the records frequently are not up to date.
Theodore Babbitt, a Palm Beach malpractice attorney and member of the Association for Responsible Medicine, a Tampa-based advocacy group, said he frequently deposes doctors whose actual records aren't reflected accurately on the Web site.
"They're at least 18 months behind, even once a doctor is disciplined," he said.
Using fingerprints to check for criminal records, then posting the findings on the Web, will help, he said.
"I applaud the state's efforts to get the records on line," Babbitt said. "It's a baby step, but at least it's a step that's not available in every state."
Someone with a criminal record may practice medicine, but doctors must disclose any felony or misdemeanor convictions when they renew or apply for a license. To find those who didn't, the Legislature required all physicians to submit fingerprints early last year.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI spent several months running those fingerprints through their criminal databases, finding about 2,000 doctors with some sort of criminal record, the health department said.
Now investigators are matching those records to the practitioner profiling forms, to make sure doctors correctly reported them. Those who didn't face disciplinary action from the Board of Medicine ranging from a small fine to revocation of their licenses, depending upon the seriousness of the offense and the physician's reasons for failing to report it.
So far, most of the unreported offenses would not affect the doctor's fitness to practice medicine, said Bill Parizek, a spokesman for the health department. Most, like two doctors from Tampa who came before the board this weekend, will face minor fines, he said.
Dr. Claude B. Guidi, a Tampa radiologist, failed to report his 1991 arrest in an adult theater for a misdemeanor charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. Court records show Guidi pleaded no contest, and the judge withheld adjudication while Guidi entered a program for first-time offenders.
Although the charge was ultimately dismissed, state law requires doctors to report even cases in which adjudication was withheld.
Dr. Spencer Blanton, a Tampa anesthesiologist, failed to report a 1982 arrest for driving under the influence. He pleaded no contest to the charge, and adjudication also was withheld.
The Board of Medicine ordered Blanton and Guidi each to pay a fine of $250 and attend three hours of classes in medical ethics.
- Times staff writer David Karp contributed to this report.
Checking up on your doctor
The Florida Department of Health's practitioner profiles can be found at www.doh.state.fl.us. You will need the correct spelling of the doctor's first and last names.
People without Internet access can call (850) 410-3359.
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times state desk
From the state wire