District of Columbia Does Little to Discipline Doctors; District Medical Board Is Worst in Nation in Sanctioning Offenders

Sept. 4, 2002

District of Columbia Does Little to Discipline Doctors; District Medical Board Is Worst in Nation in Sanctioning Offenders

Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of “Questionable Doctors,” But Information About D.C. Physicians Is Scant

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about physicians who have been disciplined by 10 states and the District of Columbia, but the information about the District is limited because the board does little to sanction bad doctors.

The database contains the names of doctors who have been sanctioned by various state medical boards for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses over the past decade. Most of the doctors were not required to stop practicing, even temporarily.

Although 237 doctors are on the District of Columbia list, the number does not reflect the abysmal job the District of Columbia Board of Medicine does of disciplining doctors who have erred. In fact, more than 70 percent of the doctors on that list had a fine as the most serious action taken against them, many for not renewing their medical license – which likely occurred when the medical board forgot to send out renewal notices.

In 2000, according to records provided to Public Citizen, the District of Columbia medical board sanctioned only one doctor. In 2001, the board issued just six orders. In Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, the District of Columbia came in last. The best medical board, Arizona’s, seriously disciplined 14 times more doctors per 1,000 than the District.

“The board simply doesn’t do its job, which is to oversee doctors and protect the public from bad ones,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Patients in the District of Columbia are truly unprotected. The board simply doesn’t act, primarily because it has little funding and virtually no staff.”

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 books are no longer available). The Questionable Doctors Online Web site is www.questionabledoctors.org. Also added today was information about doctors in Maryland, Virginia and eight Western states.

Consumers can 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, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. More states will be added throughout the year.

Public Citizen 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. The District of Columbia ranked No. 51 on the list, with three serious sanctions levied against 4,134 doctors, for a rate of 0.73 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)

The District has been consistently low over the past 10 years in Public Citizen’s rankings, which are based on information state boards send to the Federation of State Medical Boards. In 1992 and 1993 the District was 51st. It climbed to 36th in 1996, dropped to 44th in 1997, jumped to 33rd in 1998 but slipped to 41st in 1999. In 2000, the District reported no actions to the federation.

The state board’s Web site is of little help to consumers, Wolfe said. While it merited a “B” in content in a Public Citizen analysis, it got an “F” in user-friendliness (to view the analysis, click here).

Both Virginia and Maryland, which fare better in sanctioning bad doctors, still usually don’t require doctors to stop practicing, even temporarily, if they have been found guilty of serious offenses such as incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct or criminal convictions. Virginia ranked 22nd of state medical boards; Maryland was 43rd.

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 the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and eight states in the West, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors disciplined in 26 states and the District of Columbia 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, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.

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