July 2, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 1,111 “Questionable Doctors” in Texas ? Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 1,111 physicians who have been disciplined by Texas?s state medical board and other agencies 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. 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 contains information about doctors in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. More states will be added throughout the year.
Public Citizen criticized the Texas Board of Medical Examiners? poor record of disciplining Texas doctors. Examples of doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to continue practicing in Texas include:
- A doctor who admitted to and was convicted for four drive-by shootings of garages and automobiles belonging to a former business partner;
- A doctor who was arrested and pleaded guilty on charges stemming from writing prescriptions in exchange for sexual favors;
- A doctor whose surgical outpatient died after he administered an overdose of Ketalar and Valium, placing her under general anesthesia rather than the conscious sedation he intended;
- A doctor who settled a lawsuit alleging he fused the wrong level of a patient?s neck; and,
- A doctor who had sexual relations with four patients and admitted to a history of alcoholism.
“For many of the offenses committed by Texas doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “The majority of Texas doctors who committed the five most serious offenses weren?t required to stop practicing, even temporarily. Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Texas and that their patients are not aware of their offenses.”
Over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database, there were a total of 2,106 disciplinary actions issued against 1,111 doctors in Texas. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 106 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 220 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 190 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 290 for substance abuse; and 95 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 220 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only six (3 percent) involved revocation or suspension. Similarly, of the 95 actions taken for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient, only 14 (15 percent) involved suspension or revocation.
“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. “Texas has an appalling record of letting serious and sometimes repeat offenders off the hook.”
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 2001, nationally there were 3.36 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Texas ranked No. 30 (tied with New Mexico and North Carolina) on the list, with 122 serious sanctions levied against 47,994 doctors, for a rate of 2.54 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
For each of the past six years (1996-2001) Texas has ranked in the bottom half of states in the rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors, never higher than 28/29 and as low as 38. In 2001, there were 10 states that disciplined more than twice as many doctors per 1,000 doctors in those states than Texas did, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Ohio and Kentucky. If Texas had done as well as any of these 10 states, there would have been an additional 122 physicians subjected to serious disciplinary actions last year.
“Nationwide, an extremely tiny fraction of doctors face disciplinary action,” Wolfe said. “And Texas is well below the national average. The state needs to start doing a better job of protecting the public.”
Wolfe also criticized the Texas Board of Medical Examiners for the lack of information about physician offenses that is posted on the board?s web site. “The board?s web site is woefully uninformative,” Wolfe said. “Most of the time, there is little or no information about the doctor?s offense, only vague references to the offenses such as ?unprofessional? or ?dishonorable? conduct. This is unacceptable, because patients need to be able to make informed decisions about which doctor they choose to see.”
To read a survey of state medical board web sites, 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 the addition of Texas, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors disciplined in 13 states 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.
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 California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.