There’s an old joke that asks, “What do you call the student who finished last in their class at medical school?” The answer: “Doctor.” That’s also too often the answer to what to call physicians found guilty of malpractice or misconduct. You might think they were no longer allowed to practice medicine — but you’d be wrong.

After a USA Today investigation showed that thousands of doctors who have been banned by hospitals over errors haven’t been punished by the state medical boards that license them, I invited Dr. Sidney Wolfe of the Public Citizen Health Research Group to explain why they’re allowed to continue practicing. I asked him why there isn’t a national database that patients can check to see if a doctor has a bad record, so we can make informed consumer choices about our health care — and why other physicians aren’t even allowed that information before making a referral!

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