July 8, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 120 “Questionable Doctors” in North Dakota – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 120 physicians who have been disciplined by North Dakota’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses. More than half 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 North Dakota 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 North Dakota data, the site will have information about doctors in 31 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 year in any state listed. The Web site 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, North Dakota, 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 North Dakota, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the North Dakota discipline. Similarly, if a North Dakota-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the North Dakota 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.
“For many of the offenses committed by North Dakota doctors, the disciplinary actions have been quite lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “The majority of North Dakota doctors who committed one or more of the five most 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, there were 158 disciplinary actions issued against 120 doctors in North Dakota over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database.
Of the 17 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only six (35 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 16 actions taken for substance abuse, seven (44 percent) involved license 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. “North Dakota has in many instances let 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. North Dakota ranked No. 2 on the list, with 14 serious sanctions levied in a state with 1,599 doctors, for a rate of 8.76 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 Questionable Doctors 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 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.
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.