Sept. 4, 2002
Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 605 “Questionable Doctors” in Colorado – Most Still Practicing
Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 605 physicians who have been disciplined by Colorado’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.
Although the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners ranks high in Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical boards, the state all too often permits doctors who have committed serious offenses to continue practicing. Examples of doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Colorado include:
- A doctor who was reprimanded for failing to meet the standards of practice for a patient for whom his prenatal care was not adequate, including the lack of fetal monitoring;
- A doctor whose license was suspended for one month and who was placed on probation for five years for sexual contact with a patient and excessive use of controlled substances; and
- A doctor who, because of two or more acts or omissions that failed to meet generally accepted standards of medical practice, was given a permanent practice restriction including no obstetrics care.
“The majority of doctors who committed the five most serious offenses weren’t required to stop practicing, even temporarily,” said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Therefore, it is likely that they are still practicing in Colorado 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 1,002 disciplinary actions issued against 605 doctors in Colorado over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database. Of the 136 actions taken for substance abuse, only 17 (12.5 percent) involved the revocation, surrender or suspension of a license. Similarly, of 235 actions taken for substandard care, incompetence or negligence, only 40 (17 percent) required the doctor to stop practicing permanently or temporarily.
“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. “Colorado could be doing more.”
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. Colorado ranked No. 17 on the list, with 50 serious sanctions levied against 12,029 doctors, for a rate of 4.16 per 1,000 doctors. (To view the ranking, click here).
Although Colorado ranked in the top 10 states in the early 1990s, it has dropped during the past five years (1997-2001). In 1997 it was 6th, dropped to 18th in 1998, bounced to 10th in 1999, fell to 31st in 2000, then ranked 17th 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. Colorado’s Web site earned a “B” for both content and user-friendliness in a Public Citizen survey of state medical board Web sites (to view the analysis, click here).
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 Colorado, 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.