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While it might come as a surprise to many, doctors who face medical malpractice lawsuits—and even those who are found negligent—don’t always receive disciplinary action from state health regulators. Often, repeat offenders can still be practicing both during and after a medical malpractice lawsuit. One such example is a Florida doctor who current faces nearly $3 million in malpractice suits that have accumulated over a five-year period, yet he’s still practicing and has yet to receive any form of discipline by the state of Florida. And the level of negligence can be startling, as the surgeon has been accused of mishaps that range from slicing open an artery while attempting to remove a gallbladder—an event that warranted a jury to order payment of $600,000 in 2012—to accidentally connecting a woman’s rectum to her vagina.

In Florida alone, there have been nearly 24,000 resolved malpractice suits during the past decade—yet only about a half percent (128 cases) of those has matriculated into formal disciplinary charges. State officials offer a number of reasons for this extremely low number that range from expired statutes of limitation to minimal payouts that aren’t worth litigating, but the fact that many such cases are settled through mediation means that doctors don’t every officially deny or admit guilt. Moreover, many settlement agreements include confidentiality clauses, which add yet another hurdle for state investigators—and it’s not just in the state of Florida where dangerous doctors with trouble pasts continue to treat patients.

According to a recent investigation conducted by USA Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has repeatedly hired doctors with checkered pasts.  One such example is Dr. John H. Schneider, a neurosurgeon who amassed more than a dozen medical malpractice suits and settlements in two states that included alleged surgical mistakes that left patients maimed, paralyzed, and even dead. Despite such a troublesome record, the VA hired the neurosurgeon in April to help staff a hospital that serves nearly 184,000 veterans throughout the Midwest.  Making matters worse, Dr. Schneider was completely forthright in his application about both his previous license revocation and malpractice suits.

“That’s certainly not usual. It’s definitely an outlier,” remarked Lawrence Schlachter, author of Malpractice: A Neurosurgeon Reveals How Our Health-Care System Puts Patients at Risk. Numerous malpractice suits should be a good indicator of a physician’s competency.  And Dr. Schlachter should know, as he’s a former neurosurgeon turned malpractice attorney.

Yet, doctors with dubious past problems continue to practice—and it’s often left to the patient to properly vet their caregiver before committing to risky or potentially life-threatening procedures. In many cases you must be your own health care advocate, but you should also know when to seek professional legal help.

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