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June 5, 2002

Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 6,700 "Questionable Doctors" in 12 States – Most Still Practicing

Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information on approximately 6,700 physicians who have been disciplined by medical and osteopathic boards in 12 states and by other agencies for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses. Most of the doctors were not required to stop practicing, even temporarily.

The states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Public Citizen has been publishing national and regional editions of the Questionable Doctors database in book form for more than a decade. But today marks the database’s debut on the World Wide Web. The web site is www.questionabledoctors.org. Consumers will be able to search the list of disciplined doctors for free. For $10, they can view and print detailed disciplinary reports on up to 10 physicians within a three-month period in any of the states listed.

As part of the launch, Public Citizen is also publishing a California/Hawaii edition of Questionable Doctors in book form. Public Citizen will add other states to the online database and possibly publish more books throughout the year.

Examples of doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to continue practicing include:

  • A California doctor who was convicted of battery after attacking his billing clerk and office partner;
  • A New Hampshire doctor who delayed a Caesarean section, causing a baby to be born in a vegetative state and eventually die;
  • A Massachusetts doctor who allowed a drug company representative to be present at a patient examination, telling the patient the observer was a "preceptor";
  • An Indiana doctor who engaged in sexual misconduct with students ranging in age from 14 to 17; and,
  • An Illinois doctor who twice perforated a uterus during two separate elective abortions.

"For many of the most serious offenses by doctors, the disciplinary actions imposed by state medical boards have been dangerously lenient," said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. "Choosing a doctor is one of the most critical decisions a consumer will make, but unfortunately, finding good, reliable information about physicians has been exceedingly difficult. We believe that to make the right choices about health care, consumers need to know whether their doctor has been disciplined for any offense and the details of the offense."

The majority of doctors disciplined for the five most serious offenses – sexual abuse or sexual misconduct; substandard care, incompetence or negligence; criminal conviction; misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; and substance abuse – were not required to stop practicing even temporarily. Therefore it is likely they are still practicing and that their patients are unaware of their offenses.

"All too often, state medical boards are more concerned about protecting the reputations of doctors than doing their job, which is to protect unsuspecting patients from doctors who may be incompetent or negligent," Wolfe said.

The Public Citizen online database lists doctors disciplined from 1992 through 2001. Information comes from all 50 state medical boards, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration. Previously listed physicians sanctioned in 1990 and 1991 were removed.

Using the information from the state and federal agencies, Public Citizen created a database containing the doctor’s name, degree, license number, date of birth, location, the disciplinary state or agency, the date of the disciplinary action, the nature of the discipline and available information about the case. Public Citizen asked all the state medical boards to provide information about court actions that may have overruled or changed previous disciplinary actions. Any disciplinary actions that were overturned by courts or for which litigation ended in the doctor’s favor were deleted from the database.

Public Citizen has long sought greater consumer access to information about doctors, and there have been recent improvements in making that information available. Most state medical boards now provide some physician discipline information on the Internet, but the information about disciplinary actions varies greatly, is often inadequate and can be difficult for people to access.

Information about doctor discipline, including state sanctions, hospital disciplinary actions and medical malpractice awards is now contained in the National Practitioner Data Bank, but that database is kept secret from the public.

"HMOs, hospitals and medical boards can look at the National Practitioner Data Bank, but consumers cannot," Wolfe said. "It is time we lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding doctors and allowed the people who have the most to lose from questionable doctors to get the information they need to protect themselves and their families. But until Congress finds the will to open up this information, Public Citizen will provide the public with as much of the data as we can obtain."

Public Citizen also has published a ranking of state medical boards, based on the number of serious disciplinary actions (license revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probation/restrictions) per 1,000 doctors in each state. In 2001, nationally there were 3.36 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Click here to view the state rankings on the web.

"Nationwide, an extremely tiny fraction of doctors face disciplinary action," Wolfe said. "States need to start doing a better job of protecting the public."

Public Citizen recommends that states promptly make public all of their board disciplinary actions, malpractice payouts and hospital disciplinary actions; strengthen medical practice statutes; restructure their medical boards to sever any links with state medical societies; and increase funding and staffing for medical boards.

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CONSUMER INFORMATION: Consumers will be able to search for names of disciplined doctors in the online database for free. For a $10 subscription, they can obtain detailed disciplinary reports on up to 10 physicians in any of the states listed over a three-month period. States available as of June 5 are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. Click here to order on the Internet.

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