Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Don Owens, Deputy Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7767

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779

David Rosen, Press Officer, Regulatory Affairs
w. (202) 588-7742

Nicholas Florko, Communications Officer, Global Trade Watch
w. (202) 454-5108

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog

Follow us on Twitter


Aug. 9, 2011

California Is Delinquent in Disciplining Dangerous Doctors

710 Doctors Escaped Medical Board Action, Including 102 Considered an ‘Immediate Threat to Health and Safety’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The state of California has become delinquent in disciplining doctors with documented poor records, Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to California Gov. Jerry Brown urging him to take the necessary steps to correct the dangerous shortcomings of the state medical board.

California’s state medical board has failed to take disciplinary action against 710 physicians in the state, all of whom were disciplined for wrongdoing between September 1990 and the end of 2009 by California hospitals, health maintenance organizations, ambulatory surgical centers and other health care organizations. What’s more, 102 of those doctors were designated by peer reviewers as an “immediate threat to health or safety” of patients.

Some of the other violations include delivering substandard care, wrongly diagnosing surgical patients, improperly leaving surgical equipment in a patient, alcohol or other substance abuse, and physical illness or impairment.

“Unless the California Medical Board significantly improves its record of failing to discipline those California physicians previously found by their hospitals or other places they practice to present an immediate threat to health or safety, tens of thousands of California patients are at risk of being injured or killed by these doctors,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

In Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, California used to place among the top half of states when it came to disciplining doctors. But since 2006, the rate at which doctors were disciplined has consistently dropped. In Public Citizen’s 2011 analysis, California ranked 35th in the nation, 41st in 2010.  

In fact, had the state board acted against faulty physicians at the rate it had in 1997, when it ranked 18th in the country for rate of serious disciplinary actions, 164 more physicians would have been seriously disciplined in 2010 than were disciplined.

The 710 doctors represent about half of the doctors disciplined by California health care organizations in the time period Public Citizen studied. A full 35 percent of the 710 were repeat offenders.

To obtain the information sent to Brown, Public Citizen analyzed 19 years of data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks state disciplinary actions, medical malpractice payments and clinical privilege actions taken against physicians. A state-by-state analysis of doctors disciplined by hospitals and other health care organizations – but never disciplined by state medical boards – is available at http://www.citizen.org/hrg1937.

Nationally, 220 physicians were designated by peer reviewers as an “immediate threat to health or safety” of patients – California physicians comprising nearly half of them. For all of these physicians, hospitals or other health care entities have suspended, limited or revoked their clinical privileges.

Public Citizen sent a letter on March 14, 2011, to California’s medical board asking it to work with the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify the faulty physicians. The medical board responded in April, noting that understaffing and lack of resources may affect its ability to follow up on the 710 physicians Public Citizen identified as having escaped punishment.

California’s poor performance in disciplining bad doctors is nothing new. A 2005 report by the California Medical Board Enforcement Program Monitor analyzed the state medical board’s performance; nearly six years later, some of the most significant recommendations from the report have yet to be implemented, Wolfe said. These suggestions, which Public Citizen endorses, include transferring medical board investigators to the California Department of Justice, where they could work more seamlessly with prosecutors of the Health Quality Enforcement Section, and raising licensing fees to increase the medical board’s budget. (Although fees were raised, there has been no commensurate increase in board enforcement staff.)


Copyright © 2016 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.

Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation


Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.


To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.