DOCTOR DISCIPLINE: Group Says States Don’t Do Enough
State medical boards are not disciplining doctors enough, according to Public Citizen. Based on a Public Citizen report using data from the Federation of State Medical Boards, nationwide there were 2,717 serious disciplinary actions -- including revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probations -- against doctors in 1997, a rate of 3.84 actions per 1,000 physicians. According to Public Citizen, this rate is slightly lower than the prior year's (3.96 per 1,000). There was a wide gap in the number of disciplinary actions between the best and worst states. According to Public Citizen, the five "best" states -- those with the highest rate of serious disciplinary action of their physicians are (in order): Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming, Iowa and Oklahoma. The five "worst" states -- those with the lowest rate of discipline are (in order): Minnesota, New Mexico, Hawaii, Tennessee and Delaware.
And The Winners Are...
Public Citizen says these data "raise serious questions about the extent to which patients in many states with poorer records of serious doctor discipline are being protected from physicians who might well be barred from practice in states with boards that are doing a better job of disciplining physicians." Public Citizen estimates that at least 1% of doctors nationwide "deserve some serious disciplinary action each year." So it is "likely that patients are being injured or killed more often in states with poor doctor disciplinary records than" in those with high rates of disciplinary action, according to Public Citizen. "Considering what is known about substandard doctoring, not even Mississippi's disciplinary rate seems adequate. Most states have a long way to go before they even begin to offer serious protection for citizens from doctors who are incompetent. ... All states, even those with best records, need to strengthen the structure and functions of their licensing boards," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Public Citizen's health research director. According to Wolfe, a Harvard University study estimated there are 80,000 physician-negligence deaths per year, so the almost 3,000 actions taken is "a dangerously small drop in the bucket" (Public Citizen release, 4/8).