January 28, 2009

No retesting for most inactive physicians

One in 8 U.S. doctors are inactive in the state where they are licensed for at least a year, but most states don't require competency tests, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit and the American Board of Pediatrics say patient safety could be compromised in some instances, because physicians are not required to undergo competency tests or retraining when they return to actively practicing medicine.

Studies have shown that even once-competent physicians may be at risk of losing diagnostic and procedural skills during a period of inactivity, lead author Dr. Gary L. Freed says in a statement.

States must begin to address this issue -- the public deserves no less.

In one study, researchers sent a questionnaire by mail to pediatricians. Of the more than 4,600 pediatricians who responded, about 12 percent indicated they had periods of clinical inactivity of at least one year.

In a second study, the researchers conducted telephone interviews with all 64 medical licensing boards and found most states allow physicians to hold or renew an active license, even though they may not have cared for a patient in years.

In addition, five states allow physicians with inactive licenses to practice medicine, while seven states allow physicians with retired licenses to practice.

The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.