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Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 1,112 “Questionable Doctors” in Pennsylvania

Oct. 29, 2003

Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 1,112 “Questionable Doctors” in Pennsylvania

Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 1,112 physicians who have been disciplined by Pennsylvania’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, substandard care, ethical lapses and other offenses.

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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania data (information about Arizona doctors is also being added today) the site will have information about doctors in 43 states and the District of Columbia. More than 375,000 people have looked up their doctors on our Web site to see if they are among the 18,000 nationwide who have been disciplined.

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 contains information about doctors in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. The remaining states, with the exception of South Dakota, will be added Thursday, Oct. 30.

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 Pennsylvania, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Pennsylvania discipline. Similarly, if a Pennsylvania-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Pennsylvania 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.

Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Pennsylvania include:

  • A doctor who on seven occasions treated patients for head lacerations using staples without any anesthetic. The standard of care treatment for such injuries requires at least a local anesthetic. The doctor was fined $3,500. The Pennsylvania medical board Web site says only that the doctor’s license is in good standing and that “disciplinary action history exists.”
  • A doctor who provided substandard care in the delivery of a baby, causing the baby’s death. The doctor was placed on probation for 24 months and fined $1,000. The Pennsylvania medical board Web site says only that the doctor’s license is in good standing and that “disciplinary action history exists.”

Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 1,329 disciplinary actions issued against 1,112 doctors in Pennsylvania over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database (1992-2001). For the five most serious offenses, there were: 25 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 173 for criminal convictions; 27 for substance abuse; 38 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; and 14 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.


In the 10 years included in the database, Pennsylvania took only 38 actions against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; only six (16 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. By contrast, Arizona, with only 11,800 physicians (Pennsylvania has 39,000), imposed 210 disciplinary actions against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence. Only 2.3 percent of the offenses for which Pennsylvania doctors were disciplined during the 10-year period were for substandard care, incompetence or negligence. In Arizona, 24.4 percent of offenses resulting in disciplinary action were for substandard care, incompetence or negligence.

“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,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Pennsylvania too often allows 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 2002, nationally there were 3.56 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Pennsylvania ranked No. 43 on the list, with 82 serious sanctions levied in a state with 39,052 doctors, for a rate of 2.1 per 1,000 doctors. Nine states – Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Ohio, Colorado and Montana – disciplined more than three times as many doctors per 1,000 as Pennsylvania. Over the past 10 years, Pennsylvania’s board has ranked in the bottom 10 states five times. (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 involves 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 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. 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.


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 one-year period in any of the states listed. To order on the Internet, go to www.questionabledoctors.org.