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Protecting the Public: State Medical Board Licensure Policies for Active and Inactive Physicians

Authors: 
Freed GL, Dunham KM, Abraham L; Research Advisory Committee of the American Board of Pediatrics
Year: 
2009
Journal: 
Pediatrics
Pub Med #: 
Abstract: 

Objective
The purpose of this research was to explore state physician licensing board policies and regulation of active, inactive, and retired licenses.

Methods
We conducted structured telephone interviews from January to March 2007 with representatives of all 64 state allopathic and osteopathic medical licensing boards in the United States. All of the licensing boards participated.

Results
Only 34% of state licensing boards query physicians regarding clinical activity at both initial licensure and renewal. The majority of boards allow physicians to hold or renew an unrestricted active license to practice medicine, although they may not have cared for a patient in years. Only 1 board requires a minimum number of patient visits to maintain an active license. Five boards allow physicians with inactive licenses to practice some form of medicine, whereas 7 boards allow physicians with retired licenses to practice. Few states have any mechanism to assess the competency of clinically inactive physicians who return to active practice.

Conclusions
The number of inactive physicians in the United States is growing. Currently, state medical board policies do not address the issue of continuing competence in license renewal. Greater medical safety concerns on the part of the public will likely lead to calls for greater accountability by state licensing authorities.