Aug. 28, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 270 “Questionable Doctors” in Alabama ? Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 270 physicians who have been disciplined by Alabama?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. 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 contains information about doctors in 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.
Access to the information is particularly critical to Alabama consumers because the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners? Web site provides virtually no reasonably accessible information about doctors disciplined by the board. That makes it even harder for patients to learn about the doctors caring for them. According to information gathered by Public Citizen, even when Alabama takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn?t stop them from practicing.
“The majority of doctors who committed the five most serious offenses weren?t required to stop practicing, even temporarily,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Alabama 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 474 disciplinary actions issued against 270 doctors in Alabama over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. Of the 16 actions taken for substance abuse, only two (12.5 percent) involved suspension, revocation or surrender of a license.
“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. “Alabama could be doing more.”
The state board?s Web site is virtually of no help to consumers, Wolfe said. It merited a “D” in content and a “C” in user-friendliness in a Public Citizen analysis (to view the analysis, click?here). Alabama?s site offers only a doctor?s name, license number, specialty and the type of action taken; it offers no details of what the doctor did wrong. In an additional Public Citizen analysis, Alabama tied Georgia for 40th place, meaning that 39 states have better medical board Web sites.
“The board?s Web site is woefully uninformative,” Wolfe said. “It offers no information about the doctor?s offense. This is unacceptable, because patients need to be able to make informed decisions about which doctor they see.”
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 2001, nationally there were 3.36 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Alabama ranked No. 12 on the list, with 47 serious sanctions levied against 9,954 doctors, for a rate of 4.72 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.
Alabama?s standing in the rankings has gradually improved over the past five years (1997-2001). In 1997, it tied Georgia for 23rd place; it jumped to 17th in 1998, rose to 13th in 1999 and was at 12th in 2000.
“Alabama is improving, but there are still 11 states doing a better job,” Wolfe said. “Alabama?s medical board should strive to be the best. The state should do a better job of protecting the public.”
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 Alabama, Georgia and Florida, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors disciplined in 16 states 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 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.