July 14, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 164 “Questionable Doctors” in Arkansas – Many Still Permitted to Practice
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 164 physicians who have been disciplined by Arkansas’ state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, 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 Arkansas 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 Arkansas data, the site will have information about doctors in 34 states and the District of Columbia.
Consumers can search the list of disciplined doctors for free. For $10, they can also 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, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, 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 Arkansas, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Arkansas discipline. Similarly, if an Arkansas-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Arkansas 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.
The information the Arkansas State Medical Board provided to Public Citizen was in many ways incomplete – often giving no indication of what offense led to the disciplinary action. Consumers in the state will be able to find out such details if their doctor was disciplined by another state or federal agency, however.
“Arkansas’ medical board seems bound and determined to shield doctors from adequate public scrutiny,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Patients have to mail requests to the board or go to its office in Little Rock to get any information on their doctors’ histories. That’s an unnecessary burden, and it is likely that most patients are unaware if their doctors have been disciplined.”
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 225 disciplinary actions issued against 164 doctors in Arkansas over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. Where the state provided information on the nature of a doctor’s offense, there was: one doctor disciplined because of criminal conviction; one for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; four for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 11 for substance abuse; and one for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 15 actions taken against doctors for substance abuse, only six (40 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.
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. Arkansas ranked No. 33 on the list, with 17 serious sanctions levied in a state with 5,738 doctors, for a rate of 2.96 per 1,000 doctors. Ten states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, seriously disciplined at least twice as many doctors per 1,000 as Arkansas. (To view the ranking, click here.)
The Arkansas State Board of Medicine could be doing much more to police poorly performing doctors, Wolfe said. Only 14 percent of the 45 doctors who made three or more malpractice payments between September 1990 and September 2002 had been disciplined as of September 2002, data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) show. Those 45 doctors, representing less than 1 percent of Arkansas’ doctors, were responsible for 20.3 percent of all payments. 2.6 percent of Arkansas’ doctors made two or more malpractice payouts worth a total of $48.9 million in damages. These represented 43.7 percent of all payments made, according to information obtained from the NPDB.
Public Citizen recommends that states promptly make public all details 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. Arkansas earned a “D” for its content in a 2002 rating of medical board Web sites by Public Citizen.
Information about doctor discipline, including state sanctions, hospital disciplinary actions and medical malpractice awards is now contained in the NPDB, 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 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.