New Public Citizen Analysis Finds Major Differences Among States in Rates of Serious Physician Disciplinary Actions

Medical Boards in D.C., New Hampshire, Georgia and South Dakota Have Worst Performance

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  A new Public Citizen report on state medical board’s disciplinary actions found that Kentucky had the highest rate of serious actions taken against physicians, but 32 states had rates that were less than half that of Kentucky’s. Kentucky’s higher rates of disciplinary action signify greater accountability.

“The public deserves to be protected from dangerous doctors,” said Robert Oshel, Ph.D., former Associate Director for Research of the National Practitioner Data Bank and Advisor to Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “There is no evidence that physicians in any state are, overall, more or less likely to be incompetent or miscreant than the physicians in any other state. Thus, differences in discipline rates between states reflect variations in boards’ enforcement of medical practice laws, domination of licensing boards by physicians, and inadequate budgets rather than differences in physician incompetence.”

The rate of serious disciplinary actions in Kentucky was 8 times higher than in 51st-ranked D.C. Kentucky averaged 2.29 serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians per year, while the District of Columbia had only 0.29 serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians. New Hampshire, Georgia, and South Dakota were only marginally better.

The report is based on information from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a national flagging system that also includes information on hospital actions and medical malpractice payments, between 2017 and 2019, the years with the most up-to-date information.

California, the state with the largest number of physicians, also had a low discipline rate, ranking 33rd of the 50 states and D.C, with only 0.85. With 149,206 licensed physicians in California in 2018, a total of 215 more serious disciplinary actions a year would have been taken by the California Medical Board were its rate as high as Kentucky’s serious actions per 1,000 physicians.

“If all states improved their rates of serious disciplinary actions to equal Kentucky’s, there would be more than twice as many such actions nationally per year, approximately 3,000 instead 1,466,” said Sidney Wolfe M.D., founder, and senior advisor of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Such improvements in medical board performance would reduce the health risk to thousands of patients currently being injured by the minority of physicians who should not be practicing or should have their practices restricted but are still fully licensed because of inadequate discipline by state medical boards.”

Public Citizen contends that medical boards should be required by law to use the data in NPDB when initially licensing and renewing all physicians’ licenses. Additionally, doctor-specific NPDB background information should be made available to the public.