May 21, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 45 “Questionable Doctors” in Delaware – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 45 physicians who have been disciplined by Delaware’s state medical board for incompetence, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions and other offenses. Public Citizen criticized the Delaware Board of Medical Practice for the amount of disciplinary action it takes, which is among the lowest in the country.
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 Delaware 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 information about Delaware, New York and New Jersey, 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 Delaware, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Delaware discipline. Similarly, if a Delaware -licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Delaware 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.
Even when the Delaware Board of Medical Practice takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn’t stop them from practicing. Of the 40 disciplinary actions taken against doctors in the state over the past 10 years, only 16 required that the physician stop practicing.
“For many of the offenses committed by Delaware doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient, if they are disciplined at all,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.
There were disciplinary actions issued against 45 doctors in Delaware over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. This includes doctors disciplined by other states who practice in Delaware.
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. Delaware ranked No. 50 on the list, with only three serious sanctions levied. Compared with 2,219 doctors practicing in the state, this is a rate of 1.35 serious actions per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, go to: https://www.citizen.org/publications/release.cfm?ID=7234.) The five states with the highest disciplinary rates had rates at least five times that of Delaware.
Delaware’s rate of disciplinary actions has been among the lowest in the country over the past 10 years. In 1993, it ranked 43rd, then spiked to 26th in 1996 but fell to 47th in 1997. It was 51st in 1999, 47th in 2000 and 49th in 2001.
“It is extremely likely that patients are being injured or killed more often in states with poor doctor disciplinary records than in states with consistent top performances,” Wolfe said. “Delaware’s record is appalling.”
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.”
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.