May 21, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 1,105 “Questionable Doctors” in New Jersey – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 1,105 physicians who have been disciplined by New Jersey’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses. Many 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 data about New Jersey are available on the World Wide Web (the books are no longer available). The Questionable Doctors Online Web site is www.questionabledoctors.org. With today’s addition of data about New Jersey, New York and Delaware, the site will have information about doctors in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
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 one-year period in any state listed. The Web site now contains information about doctors in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. More states will be added throughout the year.
The information on the Questionable Doctors site is generally more comprehensive than information on state medical board Web sites. If a doctor has been disciplined in one state, such as New Jersey, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the New Jersey discipline. Similarly, if a New Jersey-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the New Jersey medical board Web site. Questionable Doctors online includes such cross-references. Questionable Doctors also lists doctors who have been disciplined by federal agencies, such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency – information that state board Web sites do not have.
Even when the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners takes action against a doctor, it often doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in New Jersey include:
- A doctor who engaged in a sexual relationship with his patient, indiscriminately prescribed drugs, and committed repeated acts of malpractice and/or misconduct. Although he surrendered his New York license because of this, the New Jersey medical board merely fined him $7,500, suspended his license for a month and put him on probation for 23 months.
- A doctor who allegedly failed to adequately monitor and follow a five-week-old infant with a fever, which resulted in the infant suffering cognitive impairment. Also, in the case of a three-day-old infant who died, the doctor allegedly failed to respond in a timely fashion and evaluate the newborn’s signs of respiratory distress, failed to install an intravenous line and failed to consider the possibility of group B strep infection. New Jersey merely fined him $3,000 and ordered him to complete a board-approved course in neonatal critical care. He denied that he was negligent.
- A doctor who surrendered his New York license in 2000 because he was disciplined by New Jersey for negligent supervision of staff. The New Jersey board received a report of the death of a patient after she underwent tumescent liposuction in his office, as well as allegations of multiple acts of negligence, gross negligence and record alteration. The New Jersey board fined him $4,000, forbade him from doing liposuction surgery until completion of a board-approved course and required him to be monitored when he resumed doing the surgery.
“For many of the offenses committed by New Jersey doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Quite a few doctors who committed serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily. Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing and that their patients are not aware of their offenses.”
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, 1,497 disciplinary actions were issued against 1,105 doctors in New Jersey over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 67 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 111 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 99 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 94 for substance abuse; and 35 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 111 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only 33 (30 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 99 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs, only 17 (17 percent) involved revocation, suspension or surrender.
“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. “In a number of instances, doctors surrendered their New York licenses because of the serious nature of their offenses, but New Jersey allowed them to continue practicing.”
Public Citizen also 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 2002, nationally there were 3.56 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. New Jersey ranked No. 23 on the list, with 109 serious sanctions levied in a state with 29,757 doctors, for a rate of 3.66 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, 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.”
The information on the site includes disciplinary actions 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.
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.