May 21, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 3,170 “Questionable Doctors” in New York – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 3,170 physicians who have been disciplined by New York’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses. Many 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 data about New York doctors 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 data from New York, New Jersey and Delaware, the site will have information about doctors in 30 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 one-year period 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, 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 New York, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the New York discipline. Similarly, if a New York-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the New York 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.
Doctors who were disciplined for serious offenses but are currently allowed to practice in New York include:
- A doctor who, without arranging for another physician to assume care, left an anesthetized patient – upon whom he had made an incision in preparation for surgery – at one hospital to attend the medical needs of a patient at another hospital. The New York medical board reprimanded the doctor but did not place him on probation or take more serious action. (The Virginia board reprimanded the doctor for the same offense.)
- A doctor who operated on the patient’s left eye instead of his right. (The operation involved the nasolacrimal duct from the eye.) New York discipline consisted of a reprimand and 100 hours of community service. New Jersey suspended his license for six months for the same offense.
- A doctor who performed unnecessary thoracic [lung, heart, etc.] and vascular surgeries. The doctor served five years probation, but a five-year suspension was stayed.
“For many of the offenses committed by New York doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Hundreds of doctors who were negligent, incompetent or who had criminal convictions or abused drugs or alcohol were allowed to continue practicing without even suffering the temporary loss of their license, but it is doubtful that their patients are aware of their offense.”
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 3,696 disciplinary actions issued against 3,170 doctors in New York over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 496 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 835 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 69 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 37 for substance abuse; and 30 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 835 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only 340 (41 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 69 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs, only 21 (30 percent) involved revocation, suspension or surrender. However, for substance abuse, 54 percent of the actions involved temporary or permanent loss of license.
“We have seen a pattern across the country in which state medical boards are often 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. “Although the New York medical board has improved its record over the past decade, it still lets 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. New York ranked No. 20 on the list, with 322 serious sanctions levied in a state with 80,134 doctors, for a rate of 4.02 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
New York’s standing in the rankings has improved over the past 10 years. It ranked 34th in 1993 and rose to 10th in 2000 before slipping to 20th last year.
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.”
The information on the site includes 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.