I-Team Report: Operating in the Dark

September 26, 2012 8:42:56 PM PDT
Six months ago, the ABC7 I-Team began looking into an Illinois doctor who had lost his license in another state and was in the process of having it suspended here. But Illinois's official website would have left you in the dark -- even though when Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled the site a year ago, he said it would allow people to make an "informed decision about the doctors who treat them."

Consider the case of Dr. Rajan Raj, who has had more than a few problems over the years.

Raj is a neurosurgeon. In Illinois, he was sued at least 14 times in 23 years for medical malpractice, most while on the medical staff at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

"Because he was wearing a white coat and because he was a doctor I believed him wholeheartedly," said Mary Broderick, Dr. Raj complaintant.

When Mary and Tom Broderick's 9-year-old son Ryan was an infant, he was in his father's arms as the two fell over a porch railing. Ryan was brought to Lutheran General where Dr. Raj was involved in diagnosing and treating him. The boy healed without treatment for the fall. But Dr. Raj told them something else was wrong.

"Dr. Raj also diagnosed him with cranial stenosis, which is a premature fusing of the bones in the skull, and had told us that if he wasn't operated on for that he could have a mental handicap, it could stop his brain from growing and he can have other problems," said Broderick.

The Brodericks held off on the surgery for this diagnosis, to get second and third opinions.

"Both of those doctors said that Ryan absolutely didn't need any surgery. There was absolutely no reason to open his head and Ryan didn't have crania stenosis. One of the reports says they don't know what films Dr. Raj was reading when he came up with that diagnosis," said Broderick.

The Brodericks filed a complaint against Raj with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations. By law, the state could not go after Dr. Raj for his diagnosis but did reprimand him for a number of misstatements including that the Broderick's second opinion agreed with him when it didn't; and that Ryan had the surgery Raj recommended when he didn't.

With that - and a previous state reprimand that determined Dr. Raj improperly removed a cervical disc from a patient leaving the patient paralyzed - he moved to Florida.

In just two years there, Raj racked up at least six malpractice suits, one claiming he drilled holes on the wrong side of patient's head, another for performing an unnecessary procedure when he drilled into another patient's skull.

These lawsuits and the fact that Raj failed to report his disciplinary problems in Illinois resulted in a 2011 disciplinary relinquishing of his license in Florida.

Goudie: "There was a problem with you license in Florida correct?
Raj: Florida is a terrible state, terrible things there.
Goudie: Do you recall a case when you drilled into the wrong side of someone's head?
Raj: They didn't put the proper CAT scan on the patient I was doing surgery, it was an older one from a few months before. They didn't put the recent one, I thought they had the recent one. So I made the hole and I looked at it and realized it."

But there is nothing about that case on the state of Illinois doctor's license website, one created specifically to help inform consumers about doctors. Nor is there anything about Raj being reprimanded and losing his license in Florida.

Mary Broderick finds all this incredible.

"If a doctor leaves the state and comes back, they need to report to the governing board, the people who are regulating him can't tell whether he is practicing in the state," said Broderick. "To me, how can you regulate somebody if you don't even know they are practicing. It doesn't make sense."

On the state website not one of Raj's many medical malpractice suits or settlements is listed. Six of the suits against Dr. Raj were filed and settled within the last five years and should be reported according to state law. The website listed an office for Dr. Raj and a hospital affiliation even though both were inaccurate.

For months there was no mention that Raj's Illinois license was being challenged by the state. Only on Wednesday did that change. The website now lists Dr. Raj's status as "suspended", a result of this state order, indefinitely suspending Raj's Illinois medical license. It was signed on Tuesday.

State medical regulators would not speak on camera about Dr. Raj's case or the website. A spokeswoman did tell the I-Team that some website information "is provided by the physicians themselves" and the state doesn't "have the means to verify the postings for 40,000 physicians."

In a written statement sent to the I-Team, a spokesman says in part: "the department has been updating the website with relevant information for disciplines and malpractice judgments and settlements...the department continues to explore ways to improve our website."

Statement from Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

"When the Department is made aware of a sister state discipline against an Illinois licensed physician, it institutes an enforcement action against the physician. Any final discipline imposed by the Department based off of the sister state discipline is posted on our website.

The Department does not list medical malpractice actions (i.e. lawsuits) against any physician. However, the Department does list malpractice judgments against Illinois licensed physicians or malpractice settlements where an Illinois licensed physician is a party after it is made aware of any such judgments or settlements. For malpractice judgments or settlements that arise out of claims taking place in Illinois and involving Illinois licensed physicians, there is required mandatory reporting by the insurance company involved in the case. There is no required reporting by insurance companies for claims that take place in other states so we only learn about those cases if there is a sister state discipline resulting from the settlement or judgment.

The Patients' Right to Know Act was enacted August 9, 2011. The Department has been updating the website with relevant information for disciplines and malpractice judgments and settlements that have occurred since that date. The Department continues to explore ways to improve our website."

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation website
www.idfpr.com

Illinois Patients' Right to Know Act
www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=097-0280

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