May 21, 2003
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 561 “Questionable Doctors” in Missouri – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 561 physicians who have been disciplined by Missouri’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 Missouri 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 Missouri, 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 for 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 Missouri, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Missouri discipline. Similarly, if a Missouri -licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Missouri 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 Missouri takes action against a doctor, it usually doesn’t stop them from practicing. Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Missouri include:
- A doctor whose license is permanently restricted against performing endoscopies (such as colonoscopy) or surgery without prior approval from the Missouri medical board after he performed colonoscopies that were not necessary on two patients and a polypectomy (polyp removal) on another patient without medical indication.
- A doctor who is on probation in Missouri for inappropriately utilizing unlicensed personnel in his surgical hair restoration business and for other violations. His license to practice was surrendered in Ohio, revoked in Montana and Nebraska. He is currently on probation in California for incompetence and negligence and other offenses. He is also on probation in New York, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
- A doctor who was disciplined for conduct with regard to female patients constituting misconduct and unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine, and for exercising influence within a physician/patient relationship for purposes of engaging a patient in sexual activity. His license was suspended for three months and he is currently on probation not to end until 2007.
- A doctor performed “wrong surgery” on a patient and was merely reprimanded.
“For many of the offenses committed by Missouri doctors, the disciplinary actions have been dangerously lenient,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “About half of the doctors who committed the five most serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily. Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Missouri 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 585 disciplinary actions issued against 561 doctors in Missouri over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. For the five most serious offenses, there were: 74 actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; 68 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 28 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 39 for substance abuse; and 16 for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Of the 68 actions taken against doctors for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only 20 (29 percent) involved license revocation, suspension or surrender. Similarly, of the 39 actions taken for substance abuse, only 11 (28 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. “The Missouri medical board could be doing much more to keep patients safe.”
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. The Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts ranked No. 34 on the list, levying 40 serious sanctions. Compared with 15,572 doctors practicing in the state, this is a rate of 2.57 actions per 1,000 doctors. Many states, including Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kentucky had more than twice as many serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians as Missouri in 2002. (To view the ranking, click here.)Missouri’s standing in the rankings has fallen over the past 10 years. In 1993, it ranked 12th but in 1995, it slipped to 37th. It hit 48th in 1998, rose to 25th in 2000 and tied for 28th in 2001.
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 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.