health care

Fingerprinting Doctors

Arizona medical rules

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In April, Arizona lawmakers passed a law requiring physicians renewing or applying

for medical licenses to submit fingerprints for mandatory criminal background checks. The requirement isn't just a burden for applicants. It has also tripped up the Arizona Medical Board, which already had a backlog of license applications. The board responded in September to the extra workload by freezing all applications for new licenses.

An official statement assured physicians that "the Board, in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigations, is working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible."

More importantly, to avoid paralyzing medical care, the Board allowed physicians already working in Arizona to continue practicing on expired licenses "provided that the renewal application was filed timely."

Even before the freeze, Arizona was dogged by a physician shortage. According to a 2010 University of Arizona report, 16 percent of Arizonans lived in areas underserved by primary care physicians in 2008. (The national average is 11.8 percent.)

Within three years, the report said at the time, the state would need hundreds more physicians, dentists, and psychiatrists.

In October, the Arizona Medical Board ended the freeze. At the time, there was a backlog of at least 700 applications from physicians, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Many had already been waiting months.

The board did not directly respond to concerns about the delays. It was unclear when the backlogged licenses would be issued.