Sept. 4, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 413 “Questionable Doctors” in Virginia – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 413 physicians who have been disciplined by Virginia’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 books are no longer available). The Questionable Doctors Online Web site is www.questionabledoctors.org. Also added today to the site was information about doctors in Maryland, the District of Columbia and eight Western states.
Consumers will be able to 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 three-month period in any state listed. The Web site contains information about doctors in 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, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. More states will be added throughout the year.
Even when the Virginia Board of Medicine takes action against a doctor, it often doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Virginia include:
- A doctor who twice used HIV-positive semen for artificial insemination, the first time resulting in the patient becoming HIV-positive. He was fined $ 5,000 and reprimanded;
- A doctor who, without arranging for another physician to assume care, left a patient upon whom he had made an incision in preparation for surgery at one hospital, to attend to the medical needs of a patient at another hospital. Virginia merely reprimanded him; and
- A doctor who was put on probation with monitoring in 1994 for substandard care in plastic surgery. In 2000, based upon six patient cases in which his practice was found to pose a danger to the health and safety of patients, he was again placed on probation that ended in April 2002 with the doctor being granted a full and unrestricted license.
“For many of the offenses committed by Virginia doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “The majority of Virginia doctors who committed four of the five most serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily. Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Virginia 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 668 disciplinary actions issued against 413 doctors in Virginia over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 93 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 47 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 56 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 34 for substance abuse; and 37 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 47 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only six (13 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 56 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs, only 15 (27 percent) involved 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. “Virginia should be doing more.”
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. Virginia ranked No. 22 on the list, with 70 serious sanctions levied against 19,673 doctors, for a rate of 3.56 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here.)
Virginia’s standing in the rankings slipped since last year and has fluctuated over the past five years (1997-2001). In 1997, it tied Louisiana for 34th place. It fell to 40th in 1998, rose to 22nd in 1999 and was at 18th in 2000.
Virginia’s medical board Web site ranked better. In a Public Citizen analysis, it was given an “A” for both content and user-friendliness (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 Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia and eight states in the West, Questionable Doctors Online lists doctors disciplined in 26 states and the District of Columbia 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 in 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, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.