Oklahoma: Five Doctors on Database of Troubled Practitioners

Wednesday, July 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A national health industry database covering the 1990s shows five Oklahoma doctors with 10 or more malpractice payments or disciplinary actions against them.

One doctor is still practicing with 12 malpractice payments totaling $435,398 related to surgery he performed between 1988 and 1992, the National Practitioner Data Bank showed.

Another doctor had 10 disciplinary actions between 1990 and 1996, mostly related to alcohol and drug abuse. That doctor's license was revoked in 1996, the database shows. No detailed information was available for the other three doctors.

According to the database, there were 420 adverse license actions taken against Oklahoma doctors and 862 malpractice payments reported to federal officials from the state between Sept. 1, 1990, to Dec. 31, 1999. The average malpractice payment was $191,900 and took place 3.6 years after the incident that caused it, the database showed.

The database shows malpractice payments and disciplinary actions against more than 145,000 doctors across the country.

Details of the payments and actions, including the identities of the doctors, is provided only to insurance companies, hospitals and other health care regulators.

Virginia Congressman Tom Bliley wants to make public the names of doctors on the database with 13 or more actions or malpractice payments against them.

But the database is intended only as a health industry tracking device and should not be used to publicize the names of disciplined doctors, said Dr. Jack Beller, an Oklahoma Medical Association officer.

He said the database is not even necessarily an indicator of bad doctors.

"A good many doctors on the database may be the best doctors because they are willing to take on the very complicated problems," said Beller, a Norman orthopedic surgeon.

Beller said the job of releasing the names of disciplined doctors should be left in the hands of the Oklahoma Medical Licensure Board, which runs a Web site that lets the public check the discipline status of individual doctors.

The identity of the doctor listed with 12 malpractice payments by the database appeared to be Dr. Joe Dan Metcalf, as indicated by court records and files of the Oklahoma Medical Licensure Board.

Oklahoma County court records show Metcalf made a malpractice payment of $136,398 in 1992, which matches a 1992 payment listed for the doctor on the database. Another payment made by the doctor on the database - $138,000 in 1993 - matched a payment kept in Metcalf's file by the medical licensing board, said the board's executive director Lyle Kelsey. Oklahoma County court records had the amount of that 1993 judgment at $168,000 - exactly $30,000 more than database and licensing board records.

The doctor listed on the database was shown to have been suspended for a year in 1996 and put on probation for five years in 1997.

Metcalf, an Oklahoma City surgeon, was suspended for a year in November 1996, after he pleaded guilty to illegally importing more than 550 pairs of silicone-gel breast implants from Brazil and the Bahamas. In 1997, he was put on five years' probation, licensing board records show.

There was a second 60-day suspension in 1996 for the doctor on the database, but there was no record of such a suspension in Metcalf's licensing board file.

Kelsey said he could not explain why Metcalf's file didn't show a second suspension in 1996.

It showed Metcalf was suspended for 60 days in 1978.

"A 60-day suspension is not unusual," Kelsey said. "Sometimes it's just used to get a doctor's attention."

A receptionist at Metcalf's office told the AP the doctor was not interested in commenting on his past disciplinary action.

Kelsey said Metcalf was likely given probation instead of having his license revoked after the illegal importation plea because the charges were not directly related to his practice of medicine.

"It was more about his illegally obtaining the breast implants. It didn't have so much to do with complaints about his care," Kelsey said.

Kelsey said even a string of malpractice suits does not necessarily mean a doctor is negligent. Court records show Metcalf faced more than 30 lawsuits related to his practice from 1989 to 1997, though none reached a court judgment.