Wisconsin Creates New Reporting Duties for Physicians

July 15, 2010

On May 18, 2010 the Wisconsin legislature enacted 2009 Assembly Bill 877, ushering in new rules impacting physicians and expanding the scope of the state’s Medical Examining Board oversight. The law became effective on June 1, 2010.

The most significant change brought about by the Act was the creation of Wis. Stat. §448.115. This section creates an affirmative duty for physicians to report other physicians to the Board for potential discipline in certain limited situations. Specifically, subparagraph (1) of the statute mandates that a physician who has reason to believe that another physician:

  • Is engaging or has engaged in acts that constitute a pattern of unprofessional conduct
  • Is engaging or has engaged in an act that creates an immediate or continuing danger to one or more patients or the public
  • Is mentally incompetent
  • Is or may be mentally or physically unable to safely engage in the practice of medicine or surgery

“Shall promptly submit a written report to the Board” regarding facts giving rise to such beliefs. Subparagraph (2) of the statute provides civil and criminal immunity to any physician making such a report in good faith.

Though the law was initially proposed by the Medical Examining Board and reviewed by the General Counsel of the Department of Regulation and Licensing before its passage, the Board has not yet adopted specific guidelines regarding its enforcement powers or interpretation of the law.

These changes raise many questions regarding the scope of physician practice. There are questions such as how determinative an investigation into another physician’s conduct must be before reporting requirements arise, peer review considerations, and the scope and conduct of practice committees, not to mention the Department’s ability to police potential reporting violations and the scope of discipline it will seek when such are found. These will no doubt have to be resolved on a case by case basis.

The Act makes several other important, albeit not as dramatic, changes. Whereas previously the Board could designate any of its officers to issue a summary suspension of a license or certificate holder under its jurisdiction, now such suspension requires an act by the Board Chair or Vice Chair and two other Board members. When the Board issues a summary suspension, the suspension will remain in effect until a final decision and order or until the Board discontinues the suspension after a hearing to show cause. A license holder may request a hearing to show cause, which must then be held within 20 days of the Board’s receipt of the request.

There have also been changes to the rules governing physicians holding temporary educational permits, specifically allowing them to write prescriptions for narcotics. Lastly, the Act expands the list of continuing education activities that are reportable to it for its oversight and gives the Board explicit power to adopt new rules governing the number and nature of these CME requirements; at this time, however, the Board has not adopted any proposed changes.