Sept. 4, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 285 “Questionable Doctors” in Oklahoma – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 285 physicians who have been disciplined by Oklahoma’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 Oklahoma State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision 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 Oklahoma include:
- A doctor who had inappropriate sexual relationships with three mothers of his pediatric patients while treating their children and became the father of a child born to one of the mothers. The Oklahoma board merely reprimanded him;
- A doctor who in two instances failed to diagnose, recognize, treat and report severe child abuse in a 2-year old female child with a broken arm and dislocated shoulder and a 7-month-old female infant with blindness and brain damage. The doctor was put on probation for four months and reprimanded; and
- A doctor who wrote prescriptions for Viagra for a contractor who was doing work in her home. She had a sexual relationship with him during and subsequent to the time she was prescribing drugs to him. She was put on probation for 12 months, required to take medical education and counseling, and had some restrictions placed on her practice.
“Although it is one of the better boards in the rate of serious disciplinary actions per thousand doctors, the Oklahoma 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 of their patients likely are not aware of their offenses.”
The majority of Oklahoma doctors who committed four of the five most serious offenses (sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a patient; substandard care, incompetence or negligence; overprescribing or misprescribing drugs; and substance abuse) weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily.
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 557 disciplinary actions issued against 285 doctors in Oklahoma over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 24 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 11 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 51 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 83 for substance abuse; and 27 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
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. Oklahoma ranked No. 2 on the list, with 55 serious sanctions levied against 6,353 doctors, for a rate of 8.66 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
For each of the past five years (1997-2001), Oklahoma has ranked high. In 1997, 1999 and 2000 it was in fifth place; in 1998 it was second.
The state medical board’s Web site, however, ranked much lower. Public Citizen gave it a “C” for content and a “B” for user-friendliness. This is because the site has scant details about disciplinary actions taken against a doctor. In the bulleted examples above, for instance, a consumer visiting the Oklahoma medical board Web site would learn only that: 1) the doctor who had sexual relationships with the mothers of his patients was reprimanded in 1997, but not why; 2) the doctor who failed to recognize child abuse was disciplined, but not why; and 3) the doctor who prescribed Viagra to the contractor was disciplined merely for “unprofessional conduct,” but again, no details are provided (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 Oklahoma, 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.