Christopher Duntsch - AKA Dr. Death - spent 18 months as a practicing surgeon at multiple Texas hospitals until he had his license revoked in 2013. Over this period, Duntsch performed back surgeries that left his patients in a worse condition, paralyzed, or deceased. Some hospitals may be reluctant to report doctors who have allegedly caused bodily harm to patients. Lawsuits can cost hospitals millions of dollars and lost credibility, making it easier just to fire the offending doctor.
Duntsch destroyed the lives of numerous patients who were seeking relief from back problems. Ultimately, Duntsch's horrific mistakes made during surgery and alleged drug use caught up with him.
Duntsch Earned His Medical Degree From The University Of Tennessee
After obtaining his undergraduate degree in 1995 at the University of Memphis - called Memphis State University at the time - Duntsch enrolled in a dual MD and PhD program at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis. At his alma mater, he reportedly completed at least five years of surgical residency and joined the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
While earning his degrees, Duntsch also worked in a research laboratory and helped form a company focused on developing stem cells. He became a practicing surgeon in summer 2011 when he joined the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute.
The Texas Medical Board Focuses On Licensure, And Malpractice Investigations Are Slow
A legal restructuring in 2003 altered the Texas Medical Board and patient protection laws, making it more difficult to investigate and discipline doctors for malpractice and hindering alleged victims from receiving restitution. And the maximum payout a victim can receive in compensation is $250,000 - a sum that barely covers legal fees, let alone hospital bills and lost wages.
Prior to the legislative changes, there were three regulatory bodies in the Texas health care industry: the Texas Medical Board, the court system, and hospital management. Eventually, only the board remained to regulate medical malpractice cases.
The Texas Medical Board's primary function is managing state licensure. The board requires irrefutable evidence of malpractice before it can suspend a physician's license. Even if someone files a complaint about a doctor, the investigation and legal proceedings can last for months or years, during which time the accused doctor can continue practicing medicine.
The Texas Medical Board Had A Reported Reputation For Inaction
According to The Texas Observer, a 2012 study by Public Citizen found that between 1990 and 2011, about 793 doctors had their license revoked, but less than half faced serious penalties for malpractice. In one case, a doctor named Dr. Greggory Phillips was allegedly abusing prescription painkillers and had his license suspended. The Texas Medical Board then quickly reversed its decision, giving him probation instead. After two of his patients passed from an overdose, Phillips received a fine and mandatory enrollment in a medical documentation course.
The Texas Medical Board received a complaint about Duntsch in late 2011, almost immediately after he began performing neurosurgical procedures. Over 18 months, multiple medical professionals reported Duntsch's problematic procedures to the board, but he did not have his license suspended until June 2013.
Hospitals Can Keep Records Of Malpractice Confidential From Victims In Court
The Texas legislature not only puts the burden of proof on the plaintiff instead of the defendant in medical malpractice cases, but it also allows hospitals to keep information about doctors confidential. People wanting to sue for wrongful death, severe injury, or paralysis at a doctor's hand must demand that the hospital turn over internal documents detailing the incidents.
Due to these legal hurdles and costly lawyer fees on the plaintiff's part, few hospitals end up having to pay out after facing a malpractice lawsuit.