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UPDATED: Medical board director sets new course for agency

By JACK WEATHERLY

Transparency may not seem a top priority for an enforcement agency.

But it is for Dr. John Hall, new executive director of the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure.

Toward that end, Hall says that the board will do away with the $25 fee for going beyond a generic description of a board action against a physician such as “licensee executed an Agreed Order Not to Renew or Seek Reinstatement of his MS medical license.”

Consumer Reports in April ranked Mississippi last among 65 medical licensing boards in the nation.

The board started working toward improving the website before the Consumer Reports survey came out, according to Dr. Virginia Crawford, then interim director. Crawford said at the time that the matter of the fee was undecided.

Hall’s goal is to have the new website up by spring.

He said he wants to empower Mississippians by providing them with the best information.

The number of Mississippi physicians licensed and practicing is less than 5,000, Hall said.

In recent years, narcotic pain reliever abuse has gotten out of control across the country, and Mississippi has not been unscathed, he said. Pain reliever prescription abuse in Mississippi is probably “well under 5 percent,” Hall said.

Pain management became a focal point for physicians in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hall said.

“It was well-intentioned but ultimately bad,” he said.

A Brandon physician, Dr. Steven Tincher, was arrested recently by Brandon police and charged with two counts of trafficking a controlled substance stemming from abusing “his privilege to write and issue prescriptions,” according to The Clarion-Ledger.

Hall emailed the Mississippi Business Journal last week that “concomitant with Dr. Tincher’s arrest, investigators from [the medical  licensure board] procured a surrender of his license. He is no longer a Mississippi physician.”

In the 90 days Hall has been director, about a half-dozen doctors have surrendered their licenses and another half-dozen licenses have been indefinitely suspended.

Another problem on the agency’s radar is doctors trading drugs for sex, Hall said.

Hall, 57, who holds medical and law degrees and a master of business degree, is paid $250,000 a year for his new job, which he says half of what he was paid in working as chief clinical officer for Executive Health Resources, a research division of Optum, the analytics and intellectual property side of United Health Group, not to be confused with UnitedHealthcare, a large insurer.

“People think I worked for big insurance. I did not work for big insurance,” he said.

Dr. Charles Miles, president of the board, said in an interview, “We were very excited to get someone with an M.D., JD and MBA. He was more than we could’ve hoped for.  I’ve been very impressed with what John’s done.”

“We interviewed five, maybe six, candidates and got numerous  applications, and all of them were very qualified,” Miles said.

Hall had been professor of anesthesia and pediatrics and bioethics and humanities at Blair Batson Children’s Hospital, and chief of anesthesiology at the hospital.

In another matter, Hall has voiced support for legislation to offer a framework for the practice of telemedicine.

Hall said in an earlier  interview that it would be “extraordinarily commendable” for the Legislature to take on a “tough set of concerns” that are “continuously evolving.”

“I would like to see us adopt some statutes that guide me where I can build rules that will protect the public from bad medicine,” said Hall, who is licensed to practice in Mississippi but is not a member of the Medical Association, which adamantly opposed proposed legislation backed by Teladoc Inc. a telemedicine provider.

That measure sailed through the House  but stalled in a Senate committee.

Teladoc has said it will pursue similar legislation in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, which starts in  January.

While enforcement is a major part of  his job, making it clear to physicians what is expected of them, in terms of compliance, starting with making it easier to get a medical license by reducing red tape.

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