AUSTIN (KXAN) — A state representative says she filed a “meaningful” patient safety bill in direct response to a series of KXAN investigations into systems that allow problem doctors to keep practicing in Texas.

“KXAN uncovered a problem, brought it to my attention,” said Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch. “We discussed. I met with policy holders. We’ve come together to form, I think, a piece of legislation that can make a meaningful impact into health safety and patient safety.”

On a cloudy day at the Texas Capitol, advocates point to Johnson’s bill as a bright spot. If passed, House Bill 1998 would require the Texas Medical Board to continually search the National Practitioner Data Bank for up-to-date physician disciplinary and criminal records — ensuring both that they are made public faster and stopping doctors with licenses revoked in other states from practicing in Texas.

Thirteen months ago, KXAN found nearly 50 doctors with licenses suspended, surrendered or revoked in other states able to or are still practicing in Texas with a clean record on their public physician profile.

Rep. Julie Johnson (left) meets, in clockwise order, with patient safety advocates Ware Wendell, Kelsey McKay and Lisa McGiffert. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)
Rep. Julie Johnson (left) meets, in clockwise order, with patient safety advocates Ware Wendell, Kelsey McKay and Lisa McGiffert. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

“Your reporting, Matt, has brought a lot of troubling facts to light,” said Ware Wendell to KXAN Investigative Reporter Matt Grant, who has been following the story for months. Wendell is the executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Texas Watch, who testified in favor of the bill. He added the state needs to make sure the Texas Medical Board is “doing their job.”

Johnson said the TMB has been receptive and helped collaborate to make her bill “better.” Officially, the TMB’s position is that it is “neutral” and doesn’t comment on pending legislation. The TMB blamed funding and staffing problems for not being able to keep its public physician portal up to date, Johnson said.

Wendell said there is a “patient safety crisis” that’s preventable in Texas and across the country. He and other advocates urged lawmakers at a House Public Health Committee hearing to pass Johnson’s bill.

“Matt Grant with KXAN has done yeoman’s work in identifying problems at the medical board,” Wendell told lawmakers. “Finding…nearly 50 doctors who have had problems in other states but were practicing here in Texas and we’re unaware of that as members of the public. Why? Because the Texas Medical Board wasn’t doing their job.”

The Texas Hospital Association said it has “concerns” over a planned requirement to report disciplinary actions lasting fewer than 30 days to the TMB. The National Practitioner Data Bank — a federal confidential clearinghouse of physician disciplinary actions — only collects actions lasting longer than 30 days.

The THA said it was concerned about the “practical impact” if hospitals had to report “minor” and “administrative infractions.”

For Johnson, it’s about transparency, accountability and protecting patients. On April 20, her bill was voted out of committee in a vote of 9-0. It next goes to the Committee on Calendars for consideration by the full House.

“The public has a right to know,” Johnson said. “Especially, if that disciplinary action is the result of patient care.”