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Keeping the Public Informed

What is our responsibility, as a profession, to the public when one of our colleagues has done something wrong -- or allegedly has done something wrong? The ABO occasionally hears from our diplomates, and sometimes even from patients, after they learn that an ophthalmologist is under investigation for unethical or unprofessional behavior. These concerned individuals go to the ABO website, are perturbed to see that the diplomate is identified as Certified, and demand that we “do something.”

Such situations, not surprisingly, are usually not straightforward unless the diplomate has lost or had a restriction placed on his or her medical license, in which case certification is automatically revoked because a diplomate must maintain a valid and unrestricted license in all states, territories, and/or Canadian provinces in which the ophthalmologist holds a license. However, the ABO cannot make a ruling against a diplomate on the basis of stories in the media, even when the “evidence” for wrongdoing appears to be compelling. And the ABO does not have the resources to conduct independent investigations into every complaint, which more often than not are filed anonymously.

The ABO’s Rules and Regulations are based on the principle of due diligence, which each of us would expect if we found ourselves under scrutiny for an ethical or professional transgression. These guidelines include a provision, previously rarely enacted, to suspend a diplomate’s certificate or to place the certificate on probation if, for example, the ABO wishes to mirror the actions of a licensing entity, is awaiting the outcome of an investigation or a disciplinary proceeding, or for other reasons. During a period of suspension, the diplomate is reported as Not Certified. During a period of probation, the diplomate is reported as Certified but on probation, so long as any conditions of probation are met. To meet its obligation to serve and protect the public, the ABO will include a link from the diplomate’s website profile to the publicly accessible state licensing board website so that patients and other interested individuals can obtain more information, if desired. A similar practice has been used for several years by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. The ABO found it commendable and worthy of adoption.

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