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A bill that would change how accusations of physician misconduct are investigated in Louisiana is advancing at the State Capitol, after it was amended to address concerns that it could ultimately make patients more vulnerable to bad doctors.

The amended House Bill 277 sailed through the House in a 94-0 vote with no discussion on Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate for vetting. If it makes it into law, HB277 would more tightly define when the state Board of Medical Examiners can launch an investigation into doctors accused of misconduct. 

Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat who is a lawyer and has represented physicians who under investigation by the state board, has said her bill is meant to add layers of "due process" that some doctors say they aren't currently given.

The amended HB277 would allow investigations to be launched when a complaint is received by anyone other than a board employee, when a law enforcement or state or regulatory board's report raises misconduct questions or when two-thirds of the members of the board agree that sufficient evidence exists to prompt an investigation.

The previous version allowed investigations to begin only when formal complaints were filed, which raised questions about situations in which doctors are arrested in other states or have been red-flagged by regulatory bodies.

Currently, the board can launch an investigation based on criminal arrests and other law enforcement flags, as well as shared information between states and the federal government. If, for example, a doctor is arrested with illegal substances in another state, that could be sufficient to launch an investigation from the Medical Examiners Board here.

The bill also would change the make up of the board, adding two new members: One selected by the Louisiana Hospital Association and a "consumer member" that would not be involved in investigations. Board members are appointed by the governor with input from represented groups.

It would also require that the board-appointed director of investigations be a Louisiana-licensed physician who has practiced medicine for at least five years.

Jackson's bill is supported by the Louisiana State Medical Society and other health care groups.

A separate bill that received unanimous approval in the state Senate and is awaiting House committee action would have wider-reaching impact on the investigation of doctors accused of misconduct. Senate Bill 286, which has been dubbed the "Physician's Bill of Rights," would bar the use of confidential sources and give doctors more control over how they are investigated. It's come under fire from at least one national consumer advocacy group. Doctors from Washington-based Public Citizen sent a letter to Louisiana legislators warning that SB286 could have a chilling effect on investigations and "substantially impede" the state board's ability to protect the public from bad doctors.

Asked by The Advocate for an assessment of the proposed "Physician's Bill of Rights," a spokesman for the Federation of State Medical Boards said the nonpartisan national non-profit is "unaware of any similar pieces of legislation that have been introduced or passed in any other state."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.