Oct. 30, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 483 “Questionable Doctors” in North Carolina
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 483 physicians who have been disciplined by North Carolina’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, substandard care, 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 North Carolina 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 the North Carolina data (Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, South Carolina and Wisconsin data are also being added today), the site will have information about doctors in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Information about the remaining state, South Dakota, will be added when data become available.
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 all available states. So far, more than 375,000 people have looked up their doctors on the Web site to see if they are among the 18,000 nationwide who have been disciplined.
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 North Carolina, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the North Carolina discipline. Similarly, if a North Carolina-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the North Carolina 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 North Carolina takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in North Carolina include:
- A doctor who performed surgery on a patient’s left knee when the procedure should have been done on the right knee. The doctor was merely reprimanded and ordered to receive more education; and
- A doctor who had a sexual relationship with at least three patients. Some of the relationships occurred while a professional doctor-patient relationship existed. The doctor’s license was suspended for a year, but since January 2001, the doctor has been allowed to practice without any restrictions.
“For a number of the offenses committed by North Carolina doctors, the disciplinary actions have been quite lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Most North Carolina 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 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 701 disciplinary actions issued against 483 doctors in North Carolina over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database (1992-2001). For the four most serious offenses, there were: 39 for sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a patient; 26 for criminal conviction; 14 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; and 133 for substance abuse.
Of the 133 actions taken for substance abuse, only 23 (17 percent) involved medical license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 14 actions taken for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs, only two (14 percent) involved medical license 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. “North Carolina has a poor 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. North Carolina ranked No. 45 on the list, with 43 serious sanctions levied in a state with 20,851 doctors, for a rate of 2.06 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 North Carolina. (To view the ranking, 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.”
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.