Sept. 4, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 107 “Questionable Doctors” in Alaska – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 107 physicians who have been disciplined by Alaska’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses. Most of the doctors were not required to stop practicing, even temporarily.
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 (although it is no longer available in book form). The Questionable Doctors Online Web site is www.questionabledoctors.org.
Consumers will be able to search the list of disciplined doctors for free. For $10, they can view and print detailed disciplinary reports on up to 10 individual doctors over a three-month period in any state listed. The Web site currently contains information about doctors sanctioned by 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, Oklahoma, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. More states will be added throughout the year.
Although the Alaska State Medical Board ranks high in Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, the state all too often permits doctors who have committed serious offenses to continue practicing. Examples of doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Alaska include:
- A doctor who was put on probation because of sexual misconduct with a female patient. His probation included a requirement for education on the topic and a restriction on his license; and
- A doctor who was put on probation for sexual misconduct with monitoring of his practice.
“Although it is one of the better boards in the rate of serious disciplinary actions per thousand doctors, the Alaska medical board nevertheless lets serious and sometimes repeat offenders off the hook,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “What’s more is that many patients likely are not aware of their offenses.”
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 192 disciplinary actions issued against 107 doctors in Alaska over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. Of those actions, only 33, or 17 percent, involved suspension, revocation or surrender of a license. Of the 15 actions taken against doctors for substance abuse, only one involved surrender of a license.
“All too often, state medical boards are more concerned about protecting the reputations of doctors than doing their job, which is to protect unsuspecting patients from doctors who may be incompetent or negligent,” Wolfe said. “Alaska could be doing more.”
Public Citizen also has published a ranking of state medical boards, based on the number of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors in each state. In 2001, nationally there were 3.36 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Alaska ranked No. 3 on the list, with 11 serious sanctions levied against 1,283 doctors, for a rate of 8.57 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
For each of the past five years (1997-2001), Alaska has ranked high, although it has slipped slightly. In 1997 it was No. 2. It ranked first in 1998 and 1999, slipped to No. 2 in 2000 and then to No. 3 in 2001.
The state medical board’s Web site, however, ranked much lower. Public Citizen gave it a “B” for content and a “C” for user-friendliness (to view the analysis, click here).
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 Alaska, nine other states and the District of Columbia, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors in 26 states and the District of Columbia disciplined 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 been 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.
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, Oklahoma, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.