July 29, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 456 “Questionable Doctors” in Washington – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 456 physicians who have been disciplined by Washington’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 data about Washington 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 Washington and Oregon, the site will have information about doctors in 40 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, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. 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 Washington, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Washington discipline. Similarly, if a Washington-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Washington 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 Washington takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Washington include:
- A doctor who engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with three patients. He attempted to perform a pelvic examination on a fourth patient who was being treated for upper back pain caused by an auto accident, and she refused. The doctor was merely fined and had restrictions placed on his license; and
- A doctor who allegedly had a four-year sexual relationship with a psychiatric patient. He was fined and placed on probation for 36 months in Washington. The state of Delaware later barred him from treating women or minors because he refused to take responsibility or show remorse for engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient.
Further, a doctor who was found guilty of three counts of child molestation was placed on probation, the terms of which bar him from seeing patients or writing prescriptions and restrict his practice to reviewing medical records for the Social Security Administration. However, the board did not revoke his license, so the doctor could conceivably violate his probation and set up practice.
“For many of the offenses committed by Washington doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “The majority of Washington doctors who committed one or more of the five most serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily. Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Washington 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 567 disciplinary actions issued against 456 doctors in Washington over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 13 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 63 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 24 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; and 47 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient. However, the data provided to Public Citizen by the state’s board did not specify the offense in some cases.
Of the 47 actions taken against doctors for sexual abuse or misconduct with a patient, only 10 (21 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 63 actions taken for substandard care, only 16 (25 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. “Washington has an appalling record of letting 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. Washington ranked No. 41 on the list, with 36 serious sanctions levied in a state with 16,154 doctors, for a rate of 2.23 per 1,000 doctors. Nine states – Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Ohio, Colorado and Montana – disciplined more than three times as many doctors per 1,000 as Washington. (To view the ranking, click here.)
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.
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.”
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 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. 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.