Sept. 4, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 59 “Questionable Doctors” in Montana – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 59 physicians who have been disciplined by Montana’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 (although it is no longer available in book form). The Questionable Doctors Online Web site is www.questionabledoctors.org.
Consumers will be able to search the list of disciplined doctors for free. For $10, they can view and print detailed disciplinary reports on up to 10 individual doctors over a three-month period in any state listed. The Web site currently contains information about doctors sanctioned by 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, Oklahoma, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. More states will be added throughout the year.
Public Citizen also criticized the Montana Board of Medical Examiners for failing to make any doctor disciplinary information available to the public on its Web site.
“The Montana Board of Medical Examiners’ Web site is abysmal, one of the worst in the country in terms of providing information to patients about doctor disciplinary actions,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Patients have no way of telling whether their doctor has ever been sanctioned for negligence, incompetence, substance abuse or any other offense. The rest of the country has taken steps to make this information available, but Montana for some reason has lagged far behind.”
Although the Montana Board of Medical Examiners ranks slightly above average in Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, the state sometimes permits doctors who have committed serious offenses to continue practicing.
Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 95 disciplinary actions issued against 59 doctors in Montana over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. Of those sanctions, 10 involved license revocation and five involved license surrender. For the five most serious offenses, there were: five actions taken against doctors because of criminal convictions; seven for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; two for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 13 for substance abuse; and one for sexual abuse of or sexual misconduct with a patient.
Public Citizen also has published a ranking of state medical boards, based on the number of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors in each state. In 2001, nationally there were 3.36 serious actions taken for every 1,000 physicians. Montana ranked No. 19 on the list, with nine serious sanctions levied against 2,205 doctors, for a rate of 4.08 per 1,000 doctors. In the past decade, Montana has ranked as high as 3rd (1994) and as low as low as 42nd (2000). (To view the ranking, click here).
Public Citizen gave the Montana Board of Medical Examiners’ Web site the lowest possible marks for both content and user-friendliness. At the time, the site offered no disciplinary information whatsoever – only a doctor’s license number, license issue and expiration date, and specialty. Only one other state, South Dakota, rated as poorly as Montana. The board has taken steps since then to improve the Web site, but it still lacks adequate information (to view the analyis, 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 Montana, nine other states and the District of Columbia, Questionable Doctors Online now lists doctors in 26 states and the District of Columbia disciplined 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 been 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 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, Oklahoma, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. Additional states will be added as the information becomes available. To order on the Internet, click here.