PUBLIC CITIZEN: Report Names 16,000 Sanctioned Docs
Public Citizen's Health Research Group yesterday released its four-volume "Questionable Doctors" analysis, "the only comprehensive public list of disciplined doctors." The AP/Los Angeles Times reports that the release of the "names of 16,638 doctors disciplined by states or federal agencies" gives "average Americans" more information on doctors who have "practiced incompetent medicine," especially when they are allowed to continue practicing (Neergaard, 3/5). The report reveals that fewer than a third of the nation's doctors under watch are prevented from practicing by state medical boards and federal agencies who monitor them. Removal, even temporarily, of a doctor's license did not occur in most of the 34,049 disciplinary actions taken against the doctors listed in Public Citizen's analysis. The list includes physicians charged with violating criminal laws, as well as those disciplined for substandard care, incompetence or negligence. An estimated 80,000 patients are killed and 234,000 injured as a result of negligence in hospitals each year, with most cases involving doctors, the group states (Public Citizen release, 3/4).
Open Up Federal Records
CBS Evening News' John Roberts reported that Public Citizen's analysis represents a needed push for "state medical boards to crack down on bad doctors and push Congress to change the law and open up federal records so patients can better protect themselves" (3/4). Public Citizen noted that information on physician disciplinary actions is collected by the federal National Practitioner Data Bank, but that information is withheld from the public. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the director of the group's Health Research Group, said, "Patients have a right to know about their doctors -- if they have been disciplined for sex offenses, or substance abuse, or incompetence, or anything else. Until the government opens its data bank, our analysis is the best way for them to find out" (release, 3/4). According to the AP/Los Angeles Times, the American Medical Association "has lobbied fiercely to prevent Congress from opening" the federal databank, arguing that "consumers need to know when a state disciplines a doctor, but ... say[ing] broader information is unfair" (3/5). AMA Board Chair Dr. Thomas Reardon said, "The information in the databank does not necessarily reflect the physician's competency or the quality of care they provide" ("Evening News," CBS, 3/4). Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said yesterday that "he will again attempt to legislate something of a compromise -- making public all records except malpractice payouts" (AP/Los Angeles Times, 3/5).
On The Lower End
The analysis found that disciplinary measures taken against doctors vary widely from state to state (release, 3/4). North Carolina had one of "the lowest rates of serious disciplinary action," ranking 48th, but the Charlotte Observer reports that the "North Carolina Medical Board took almost twice as many disciplinary actions against doctors last year as in 1996" (Garloch, 3/5). At 43rd on the Public Citizen list, Massachusetts "continues to rank near the bottom in serious actions taken," although the Boston Globe notes that the "Massachusetts [medical] board has become a national leader in providing detailed physician information to consumers." The executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine noted a "$250,000 cut in the board's budget to fund" a state Internet/mailing physician profile project, which has consequently "hindered operations" (Kong, 3/5).
The Rocky Mountain News reports that Colorado ranks 4th on the Public Citizen list, noting that "Public Citizen researchers ... commend the Colorado board for weeding out bad doctors and making conditions safer for patients" (Crowder, 3/5). "New York ranked 18th in the nation," with only 4.42 of every 1,000 doctors hit with probation or license restraint. In New York, "only 22.2% of the cases" resulted in a physician having his or her license revoked by the state health department -- "far more than in Mississippi, North Dakota and Iowa, but less than in New Jersey, California and Illinois." A New York health department spokesperson noted that the state posts physician disciplinary information on the Internet at www.health.state.ny.us (Rubinowitz, New York Post, 3/5).