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Public Citizen Ranks Performance of State Medical Boards in 2001

April 9, 2002

Public Citizen Ranks Performance of
State Medical Boards in 2001

Survey of State Board Web Sites Also Issued

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? Using information released today by the Federation of State Medical Boards, Public Citizen?s Health Research Group has ranked the performance of the 50 state medical boards and the District of Columbia based on the rate of serious disciplinary actions taken against doctors in 2001. Public Citizen is also releasing a rating of medical board Web sites based on their content of disciplinary actions and user-friendliness.

Nationally, state boards took 2,708 actions against doctors ? including license revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probations/restrictions. Public Citizen calculated each state board?s disciplinary rates per 1,000 physicians. The national rate was 3.36 actions per 1,000 physicians, compared to 3.49 in 2000.

State disciplinary rates varied widely. The 10 worst-performing boards were: the District of Columbia (the lowest rate), Hawaii, Delaware, South Dakota, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, Rhode Island.

The 10 best-performing boards were: Arizona (the highest rate), Oklahoma, Alaska, Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota, Idaho, Ohio, Utah and Georgia.

The top rate was 14.4 times higher than the bottom rate, although there is no basis for expecting disciplinary action rates to vary from state to state. Boards with adequate funding and staffing, independent leadership and the power to undertake significant investigations and follow through with discipline are most likely to be effective, the report said.

“The state boards should hold physicians to the highest standards, and if they?re not, patients are vulnerable to doctors who are practicing bad medicine and endangering lives,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “Such wide differences in discipline rates mean that some states could be doing a whole lot more to protect patients.”

Physicians are typically disciplined for offenses such as negligence, incompetence, sexualmisconduct and breaking criminal laws.

Public Citizen also released today a survey of state boards? Web sites, which updates an earlier survey done by the group in 2000. This report concludes that although there has been modest improvement over the previous survey, only seven sites received a grade of “A” for content and only 20 earned an “A” for user-friendliness.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia maintain Web sites, and 49 of those name disciplined doctors on the site. Boards historically have been reluctant to publicize disciplinary actions.

Of the seven states earning an “A” for content ? Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Virginia ? all but South Carolina also earned an “A” for user-friendliness. Thus, 45 states provided inadequate information compared to those receiving “A” in both categories. The content grades were based on whether the site named disciplined doctors and how complete the information on disciplinary actions was.

As consumers rely more heavily on the Internet to fill prescriptions, seek medical advice and research physicians, the completeness of these sites becomes even more important, the report said. It recommended that state medical boards adopt minimum uniform standards so that all sites have searchable databases on physicians that include information from the past 10 years and are kept up-to-date.

“These two reports go hand-in-hand: State boards need to evaluate whether they are effectively disciplining doctors and whether the public is able to get access to that information,” Wolfe said. “A properly functioning board must do both well,” Wolfe said.

However, there was no relationship between state disciplinary rates and the quality of the state?s Web site.

To view a copy of the state medical board rankings, click here.

To view a copy of the Web site survey, click here.