Aug. 28, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 1,555 “Questionable Doctors” in Florida ? Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 1,555 physicians who have been disciplined by Florida?s state medical and osteopathic boards 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.
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, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, 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 Florida Board of Medicine?s poor record of disciplining Florida doctors. Examples of doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to continue practicing in Florida include:
- A surgeon who operated in the wrong place in the body in October 2001. He was fined $5,000 and required to give a one-hour lecture on wrong-site surgery and take five hours of courses in risk management.
- A Florida physician who failed to recognize that on two occasions he had perforated a patient?s uterus during an attempted abortion. In 1995, he was fined $3,000, required to take continuing medical education and placed on probation for 18 months.
- A physician who surrendered his New York license in 1998 because he “practiced the profession fraudulently.” Florida merely reprimanded him and fined him $2,000 for not reporting this to the Florida board.
- A Florida doctor who in 1996 was put on a 60-month probation, fined and reprimanded for having sex with a 23-year-old patient. Based on the Florida action, Pennsylvania in 1998 took the more stringent step of suspending his license for the duration of the Florida probation period.
- A doctor whose license was revoked by New York in 1995 because he was practicing negligent, substandard care. In 1997, based on the New York action, the Florida board merely put him on probation for 60 months and required him to take classes and be monitored.
- A doctor whose license was suspended in 1999 by Illinois because he had been suspended from admitting privileges to a hospital and had failed to notify the Illinois board. Florida merely reprimanded him and imposed a $1,000 fine.
“The Florida Board of Medicine is dangerously lenient with doctors, repeatedly letting serious and sometimes repeat offenders off the hook,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “There are many physicians now practicing in Florida who, had they been practicing in states with more patient-protective medical boards, would have either lost their licenses to practice or at least been given a more serious disciplinary action. Because they are practicing in Florida, many have escaped with fines or letters of reprimand or concern. Most of their patients likely are not aware of their offenses.”
The majority of Florida doctors who committed the five most serious offenses (criminal conviction; 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.
In fact, only 36 percent of Florida?s disciplinary actions in 2001 were serious ? meaning license revocation, suspension, surrender or probation. When compared to the rest of the country, only two states were worse in that regard, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Florida was one of only seven states in which the percentage of actions that were serious was less than 50 percent.
“In 47 percent of the disciplinary actions taken by Florida over the past decade, the most serious action against an individual doctor was a fine,” Wolfe said. “The national average was 8 percent. Put another way, Florida is six times as likely as other states to use a fine as the most serious disciplinary action against a doctor.”
For the 828 primary disciplinary actions (the most serious against an individual doctor) taken over the past decade against doctors in Florida for substandard care ? one of the categories of serious offenses ? 63 percent were fines and only 34 percent involved even temporary loss of license (revocation, suspension or surrender) or probation. For all of the states in Public Citizen?s database, only 20 percent of the primary actions taken for substandard care in the past 10 years were fines, and 63 percent were serious disciplinary actions. When it disciplines a doctor for substandard care, Florida is more than three times as likely as all of the states to impose a fine as the primary disciplinary action and barely more than half as likely to revoke, suspend or seek surrender of a license, or put a doctor on probation.
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. Florida ranked No. 26 on the list, with 136 serious sanctions levied against 44,747 doctors, for a rate of 3.04 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
For each of the past five years (1997-2001), Florida has ranked in the bottom half of states in the rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors. However, it has improved; it was ranked 49 in 1998, 38 in 1999 and 34 in 2000.
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. To read Public Citizen?s survey of state medical board Web sites, click here.
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 Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors in 16 states 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, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, 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.