Taking a history on new physician hires

More states considering background checks

The new staff physician hired by your hospital has more than just years of experience and clinical fluency under his belt. He also has a conviction for felony drug possession. But if you are in one of 35 states that do not require criminal background checks of physicians, you might not find out.

More states are beginning to consider the wisdom of requiring state, or state and federal, criminal background checks of doctors. The Federation of State Medical Boards recommends both state and national checks. California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and North Dakota currently require both.

Protecting hospital’s investment and patients

Most states that do require background checks, or that are getting ready to enact the requirement, conduct the investigations once an offer of employment has been extended. But many are starting to launch the investigation after the initial interview, before an offer of employment is made.

When hiring a new physician, the hiring hospital often invests a great deal of time and money in the recruitment process and wants reassurance that only suitable candidates are evaluated. In addition, the hospital’s legal team is looking to cover any possible liability bases, including making sure that new staff members aren’t carrying with them criminal backgrounds that signal behaviors that could come back to haunt the hospital or its patients later.

Pre-employment checks fairly straightforward

The typical pre-employment background check is a fairly straightforward process, usually not involving digging into the distant past. The cost sometimes is paid by the candidate, but most often the check is paid for by the employer. The background check generally starts with the candidate’s undergraduate years and involves verification of the following:

  • Social Security trace and validation
  • State and federal court records and the applicant’s driving history
  • Employment credit profile
  • Primary-source verification of candidate’s bachelor’s through professional degrees
  • Training programs, if applicable, including internship, residency, and fellowship
  • Licensure, board certification, and hospital privileges history
  • Professional organization affiliations
  • References
  • Drug Enforcement Agency registration and history
  • Possible Medicare or Medicaid program exclusions
  • Malpractice coverage and claim history and National Practitioner Data Bank entries
  • American Medical Association or American Osteopathic Association profile

South Carolina’s quest

South Carolina’s board of medical examiners, at press time, was considering mandating background checks for anyone seeking a new medical license there.

If the new plan becomes law, anyone applying for a physician’s license would be checked either through the State Law Enforcement Division’s database, its counterpart in another state, or the FBI. Applicants would pay for the cost of the checks.

South Carolina is among many states that currently do not require physicians to pass background checks for any possible criminal history.

The proposal under review makes no changes in the secrecy provisions that surround investigations of physicians. Those rules ban disclosure of any information until the board reaches a final decision, and then only if it orders public sanctions (e.g., license suspensions or revocations).

Checking on medical students

Some medical schools believe waiting until a physician is applying for a job is too late to verify a clean criminal record, and are considering mandatory criminal background checks for hopeful future doctors.

"In an age of uncertainty and anxiety, people want to be certain about the qualifications of the professionals who serve them and their families," Robert Sabalis, associate vice president of student affairs and programs for the Association of American Medical Colleges, stated in a recent press release.

And according to a recent survey in USA Today, a large percentage of physicians with criminal backgrounds are unlikely to voluntarily acknowledge them when filling out an application. In fact, an omission or falsification in regard to criminal background is more likely to occur than one involving medical school or residency records, or previous licensure problems, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.