By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – They are every patient’s biggest fears: a botched surgery; a missed diagnosis.

That’s why the state has a board to investigate and discipline doctors.

But an I-Team investigation has found that of the hundreds of doctors who settle malpractice claims, almost none are held accountable by the state board tasked with protecting the public from substandard medical treatment.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports

Whether it’s a medical emergency or just a routine trip to the doctor, you expect quality care. But that’s not always the case.

“Please don’t let my son die. That’s what was going through my head, please don’t let my son die.”

That was the silent plea from a father while his baby boy was in distress, stuck in the birth canal during delivery at Mt. Auburn Hospital.

Dr. Charles Kawada was the doctor in the delivery room.

“What should have happened was I should’ve gotten a C-section as soon as possible,” the mother said. “It’s unbelievable, probably a parent’s worst nightmare.”

Dr. Kawada did not order a C-section. He waited and eventually used a vacuum to extract the baby, but there was a major problem. By the time the baby was born he wasn’t breathing.

“He lost oxygen and his organs began to fail,” the mother said. The baby survived but suffered permanent brain damage.

In the last 10 years, Dr. Kawada has settled three malpractice claims — including that couples’ — but he’s never been disciplined by the state Board of Registration in Medicine, which polices all doctors in Massachusetts.

Dr. Kawada is hardly alone.

The I-Team poured through records for more than 16,000 doctors and found 654 of them have settled one or more malpractice claims in the last decade. Out of those, only six doctors — less than 1 percent — have been disciplined by the state board.

“To the consumer that seems almost unfathomable that could happen,” said Linda DeBenedictis, founder and president of the New England Patients Rights Group.

The board’s inaction when it comes to disciplining doctors with multiple malpractice claims “allows physicians who perhaps shouldn’t be practicing to continue to harm other innocent, unsuspecting people,” DeBenedictis said.

Our investigation found 14 doctors who’ve settled three or more malpractice claims in the last 10 years and none them had been disciplined.

Fall River radiologist Daniel Le settled three cases. In one he allegedly failed to diagnose a woman’s breast cancer. In another a woman suffered permanent paralysis after Doctor Le allegedly failed to notice her spine was fractured, court records show.

Doctor Stephen Kasparian, an obstetrician in Fall River, settled four cases. One involved the death of a twin baby, the records show.

“Unfortunately medicine is not a precise science. We wish it would be,” said Stancel Riley, executive director of the Board of Registration in Medicine.

In disciplining doctors, Riley said the board relies primarily on complaints from patients, hospitals and law enforcement — not malpractice claims.

“A malpractice suit is not proof of substandard care, it’s an allegation,” Riley said. “And since most of those are settled — 96 percent of them are settled — that doesn’t give any determination if there was wrongdoing or not.”

But that’s no comfort to the mother of the baby born at Mt. Auburn Hospital.

“The public is putting their trust into the board as far as making the right decisions… to protect patients and protect the public, and they failed,” she said.

The board of medicine has disciplined an average of 51 doctors per year since 2006.

On its web site, the board profiles 33 thousand doctors licensed in Massachusetts and includes the number of payments each doctor has made on malpractice claims.

Dr. Kawada says two of the three malpractice claims against him were settled for small amounts of money.

All the malpractice cases cited in this report were settled with no admission of wrongdoing by the doctors.

Comments (195)
  1. Kathy "MA" Barker says:

    kathy curran – i have a medical history to do with the intestines- the doctor realm has been ignoring the family medical history – and by doing so my #1 son will die – i am a mother that loves her sons. i will not give up. this has been going on for years!! i have had enough – i am reaching out to find a positive doctor to approach my son to do surgery like my primary did back in 1971 and he cried as i would have died! my dad would have died if i was not around – my #3 son would have died if i was not around. letters to barbara walters, nancy grace, dr g – emails to dr oz, dr drew, etc – we sign all the papers before surgery – it has nothing to do with money – we want to be healthy to enjoy our favorite people in life – they call me “MA” Barker – “The Good One” – if he dies – the autopsy will be done and i will go from there! i will be mailing you and your team my medical history by next week and maybe you can help me

  2. George Bush says:

    Doctors make mistakes, but that is not what malpractice is. There are a surprisingly high number of just bad Doctors out there. The old GI bill did not help, bad Doctors were allowed to get through school because they were veterens, that is not right.
    Sadly patients can not just blindly trust their Doctors, they need to ask a lot of questions and tell the Doctor as much as they can about what is wrong with them.

    1. Chester Tennyson says:

      I am medical negligence attorney who represents patients. At the beginning of the legal process we are required to file a written offer of proof with the court. It includes pertinent medical records and an affidavit from a medical expert who has reviewed the records and has concluded that the treatment was below the standard of care. A Tribunal is scheduled consisting of a doctor, an attorney and a superior court judge. It is only after the Tribunal makes its decision that the case can proceed to trial. We are required to furnish a copy of the complete offer of proof to the Board of Registration in Medicine. One has to wonder whether the Board actually reviews these submissions to make sure patients are being protected or are they just filed away?

  3. Brittany says:

    I feel so sad for this mother in this article, a simple c-section could have changed evrything. Dr Kawada stated that the family got a sm amount of money. Are you kidding me? My grandmother had surgery at Boston Medical 4yrs ago and the surgent marked the spot. They ended up performing the surgery on the wrong side. This is how careless and mindless Dr’s can be Boston Meeical “one of the best hospitals in the country” made a BIG mistake. Whch eneded up costing her life in the end. We were not looking for money or a slap on the hand this Dr should have had his medical license revoked. He didnt of course and im sure he has done many surgies since. the point his most people are not looking for money they want an answer as to why something like this happened or could even happen?? Dr’s go to school for 4-8yrs and yes people make mistakes but most of these are overlooked and swept under the rug. Now a days i feel like doctors and nurses just dont care they are over worked under paid like EVERYONE elses in the world. You are dealing with peoples Lives you need to care you need to have compassion. Its so sad the world we live in.

  4. Wendy says:

    I recently filed a complaint with the Board of Registration in Medicine against an orthopedic surgeon whom I saw in the absence of my regular doctor. This doctor did not even examine me, determined that I was fit for return to duty in a physically demanding job. This allowed the Worker’s Comp Insurer to terminate my claim and left me without income for six months. His practice is in the Massachusetts General network of doctors. When I went to get a second opinion at MGH, they read his office notes and determined that what I needed was a physiatrist. This forced me to go to NH where orthopedic surgeons determined that I had a deviated patella (kneecap) and several additional meniscus tears. They recommended an operation. I couldn’t get one because of the doctor’s office notes. I had to go to Court wherea Judge found this doctor’s opinion to be unreliable. The insurer was ordered to pay for the operation and restore Worker’s Comp benefits.

    The Medical Board determined that since this doctor didn’t have any medical malpractice claims against him, they closed my complaint. I found it very interesting that Dr. Riley stated that a “medical malpractice suit is not a proof of substandard care, it’s an allegation.” The Board of Medicine based their decision on the doctor’s malpractice record and ignored the facts of my complaint that included the surgical notes.

    I hope that you follow up on this issue. I hope it sheds some light on the practices of the Board and enables change to protect the patients of Massachusetts.

  5. Tom says:

    Like other rich and powerful organizations in this country, The AMA is a SRO(Self Regulatory Organization). That is akin to having death row inmates on the parole board. It is one of the huge travesties in this country. Doctors don’t want to discipline doctors. It is amazing what a doctor has to do to get his license revoked. It is usually something that is in the media and causes a huge public uproar. aka sexual assault, or murder. I used to be a stock broker and I was shocked how that industry is regulated. SRO’s are a scourge that need to be broken. They are more like political organizations than regulatory ones.

    These I-team reports are fine but in the end, they change nothing. I would bet that the AMA will still be with us 100 years from now. Any person who tries to change that better hope they never have to go under the knife. They just might never wake up.

  6. Julie says:

    The timing of this I-team report is shocking for me. I just submitted a complaint to the Board about my obstetric doctor at Mt. Auburn (not Dr. Kwada but he did authorize one of our ultrasounds) and am awaiting the results of the Boards investigation. I was designated a high risk patient in my third trimester and my OB recruited a maternal fetal medicine specialist to consult with about my care. For some reason she did not consult with the MFM when she was prompted by noteworthy unprecedented abnormalities that she recognized as warranting the consideration of induction. She decided against induction without consulting the MFM and 4 days later our son died inutero on his due date. I have spent the last year researching what really happened with my care. I submitted a complaint because I realized the full truth about what happened would be buried forever if I didn’t report it. But as two previous commenters have noted, the self-regulatory structure of the systems we have in place to bring negligent practice to justice have the potential to undermine the process and allow doctors to knowingly deny wrong-doing. Having your doctor tell you to your face that she stands behind what she did when you both know she doesn’t fully believe it is outrageously unethical when the loss of your son’s life was the outcome. I believe my doctor has opted to deny wrong-doing because she knows both the Tribunal for medical malpractice and the Board of Reg. in Medicine in MA are self-regulatory organizations. With these systems in place any doctor reviewing our case is forced into a position requiring them to paint a picture that says, “only in hindsight can we see what should have been done,” when they may really believe, “wow, Dr. So-and-so really messed up -what happened?!?!” The SRO system discourages doctors from declaring any wrongdoing in cases (unless it involves gross, gross negligence.) But when your big, beautiful baby boy dies unnecessarily due to real negligence it shouldn’t matter that the negligence can be painted as “only in hindsight” if certain details can be downplayed or omitted. Negligence is negligence and doctors should own up to it when it occurs and results in the very real opportunity to deliver a baby alive and well to be lost forever unnecessarily. Denying the negligence inflicts additional pain, struggle and hardship that runs counter to the goals and objectives of ethical health care.

  7. Nicole Hill says:

    I just had to deal with a mental episode against a Medical doctor working as a professor. I have reason to beleieve that he may as well abe involved in a bigger conspiracy against me involving the State Representative and other elceted officials in the community. He may very well be funding these elected officials. I have been separated from my children and i found out that my ancestors were Indian and slave owners. He said to me in class”you don;t know”!!!!!!!!!! so there you have another form of corruption. He was telling me in so many ways why they are conspiereing against me.

    1. Tom says:

      I’m not really sure you are helping the situation with your comments. You really need to articulate yourself better. But, in all fairness to you, nothing would surprise me today.

      I have a sister that is in a halfway house. Most of the residents have various forms of mental disabilities. One thing they do a lot of is smoke cigarettes. So, I bought her a e-cigarette; hoping that she would have less problems with copd and chronic bronchitis. But, the problem is that, little by little, the medical organizations are attacking these products. The only reason why is that, in one fell swoop, these products have successfully improved the lives of millions of smokers. This has had the side effect of threatening the funding and jobs of non-profit organizations that depend on other’s misfortune to put food on their tables.

      As a matter of fact, I predict that they will try to ban these products or tax them heavily. This will be the crime of the century.

      Nothing is ever quite what it seems!

  8. Emily Buswell says:

    II couldn’t even get to square one of getting a Lawyer to take my case. I was severelly damaged after Radiation from my surgery that I am not longer able to be with my husband anylonger. The radiation went bad and I had to stop it at 80%. No other doctors would even go near me to try to help me. Even my PCP backed away from me. I was At MGH but started my journey at Mount Auburn. becuase after 2 tries they couldn’t diagnosis me.Finally I am at Tufts medical center It has been 4 years. I feel the biggest problem is that we think that all of these hospitals have joined together for the benefit of the people to converse about our cases, but in reality it is that they joined each other as a team because of the malpractice. One hospital can not help you with anything if they are associated with “Partners” I feel the same with lawyers, they know this and are unable to fight” Partners” Tufts was the only one who helped me and now they have just handed me sad knews that
    there is truly nothing else they can do. So this means the dcotors from MGH are able to go on to others and damage them and just push it to the side. If there is a lawyer out there who would be able to still help I would reaaly appreciate a reply