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Aug. 28, 2002

Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 557 "Questionable Doctors" in Georgia – Most Still Practicing

Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 557 physicians who have been disciplined by Georgia’s state medical board 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.

Public Citizen has been publishing national and regional editions of its Questionable Doctors database in book form for more than a decade. But now, for the first time, the database is available on the World Wide Web. The Questionable Doctors Online 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 disciplinary reports on up to 10 individual doctors over a three-month period in any state listed. The Web site contains information about doctors in Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. More states will be added throughout the year.

Access to the information is particularly critical to Georgia consumers because the state Composite State Board of Medical Examiners’ Web site provides virtually no information about doctors disciplined by the board. That makes it even harder for patients to learn about the doctors caring for them.

Even when the state takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Georgia include:

  • A doctor who previously abused alcohol and had his license suspended temporarily in West Virginia and Georgia because he had a relapse and was charged with driving under the influence. He was then placed on probation, which has ended;
  • A doctor who has a restriction on his Georgia license prohibiting him from performing any surgery of the esophagus;
  • Six Georgia physicians, currently practicing, who were disciplined for having sex with patients or other sexual offenses. Five were put on probation and one was reprimanded.

"The majority of Georgia doctors who committed the five most serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily," said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. "Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Georgia and that their patients are not aware of their offenses."

Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 930 disciplinary actions issued against 557 doctors in Georgia over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 21 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 46 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 47 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 63 for substance abuse; and 12 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.

Of the 46 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only nine (20 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 47 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs, only seven (15 percent) involved revocation, suspension or surrender.

"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. "Although it has improved substantially, Georgia could be doing more."

The state board’s Web site is virtually of no help to consumers, Wolfe said. It merited a "D" in content and a "C" in user-friendliness in a Public Citizen analysis (to view the analysis, click here). Georgia’s site offers only a doctor’s name, license number, specialty and the type of action taken; it offers no details of what the doctor did wrong. In an additional Public Citizen review, Georgia tied Alabama for 40th place, meaning that 39 states have better medical board Web sites.

"The board’s Web site is woefully uninformative," Wolfe said. "It offers no information about the doctor’s offense. This is unacceptable, because patients need to be able to make informed decisions about which doctor they see."

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. Georgia ranked No. 10 on the list, with 95 serious sanctions levied against 18,995 doctors, for a rate of five per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)

Georgia’s standing in the rankings has gradually improved over the past five years (1997-2001). In 1997, it tied Alabama for 23rd place; it jumped to 12 th in 1998, dropped to 15 th in 1999 and was at 9 th in 2000.

"Georgia is improving, but there are still nine states doing a better job," Wolfe said. "Georgia’s medical board should strive to be the best."

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.

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 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."

With today’s addition of Georgia, Alabama and Florida, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors disciplined in 16 states 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.

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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 over a three-month period in any of the states listed. States available are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.

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