March 4, 1998

Health Research Group Names 16,638 Questionable Doctors; Most Allowed to Continue Practicing Medicine; Patients Put at Serious Risk

Washington, D.C. -- Names of 16,638 doctors disciplined by state medical boards or other agencies were published today by Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. The consumer group?s analysis -16,638 Questionable Doctors - reveals that most of the disciplined physicians were not required to stop practicing, even temporarily.

Fewer than a third of the country's questionable doctors are prevented from practicing by the state medical boards and federal agencies charged with monitoring them, the group found. This information is recorded in the federally funded National Practitioner Data Bank, but because that data is kept secret from the public, most patients are unaware that they may have a health care provider who may be putting their lives and well-being in jeopardy.

"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," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group and author of 16,638 Questionable Doctors.

The group lists 393 doctors disciplined for the sexual abuse of, or sexual misconduct with, a patient, and 2,391 disciplined for substandard care, incompetence or negligence.

Public Citizen?s new edition of Questionable Doctors includes 4,562 new physicians since the last analysis in 1996, and remains the only publicly available, state-by-state listing of disciplined doctors. It names more than 2,000 questionable doctors in California, over 2,000 in New York, and 1,870 in Florida, and records the date and details of their disciplinary action(s).

Of the 34,049 disciplinary actions taken against the doctors named in Public Citizen's analysis, most did not lead to any removal, even temporarily, of a doctor's license. Listed in the book are 1,861 doctors involved in criminal offenses, 2,391 doctors disciplined for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, 1,521 doctors who overprescribed or misprescribed drugs, 1,309 doctors with actions taken because of substance abuse and 393 doctors disciplined for sex-related offenses.

"The most common disciplinary action for even the worst offenses was probation. Some states do little more than slap physicians on the wrist, leaving most questionable doctors free to practice with few if any restrictions," said Dr. Wolfe.

Disciplinary measures taken against doctors vary widely from state to state, the analysis found. Mississippi recorded a commendable 10.83 serious actions (revocation, suspension, surrender or probation) per 1,000 doctors, while New Hampshire had only 1.76 serious actions for every 1,000 doctors. Only seven states are disciplining doctors at a rate equal to or higher than that of malpractice insurers, which drop doctors from coverage or increase their premiums as a form of discipline.


Public Citizen is calling for changes in state and federal policy to combat this epidemic of dangerous health care, including the following recommendations:

* Data sharing by state medical boards, Medicare peer review organizations, state Medicaid agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration in catching and sanctioning malfeasant doctors.

* The National Practitioner Data Bank should be opened to the public.

* The names of doctors whose controlled-substances prescription licenses are removed or restricted by the Drug Enforcement Administration should be routinely publicized.

* State medical boards should report to the public all their disciplinary actions and the offenses for which their actions were taken.

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Copies of the full four-volume 16,638 Questionable Doctors are available for $307.50; regional listings are $23.50, (inc. shipping and handling). To order, send a check or money order made out to Public Citizen, Department QD8PRC, 1600 20th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. Please specify state for all regional orders.

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