Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 794 “Questionable Doctors” in Arizona

Oct. 29, 2003

Public Citizen Releases Database With Names of 794 “Questionable Doctors” in Arizona

Consumers Can Search Online for Their Doctor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen today released new information about 794 physicians who have been disciplined by Arizona’s state medical board for incompetence, misprescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, substandard care, ethical lapses and other offenses. Most 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 Arizona 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 Arizona data (Pennsylvania data are also being added today), the site will have information about doctors in 43 states and the District of Columbia. More than 375,000 people have looked up their doctors on our Web site to see if they are among the 18,000 nationwide who have been disciplined.

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, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. The remaining states, with the exception of South Dakota, will be added Thursday, Oct. 30.

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 Arizona, but is licensed in multiple states, the Web sites for the other state medical boards will not include the Arizona discipline. Similarly, if an Arizona-licensed doctor has been disciplined in another state, that information will not show up on the Arizona 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.

Doctors who were disciplined but are currently allowed to practice in Arizona include:

  • A surgeon who negligently placed a spinal (bone) screw directly into the spinal canal or near the spinal cord, causing sever neurological symptoms, but was merely reprimanded;
  • A doctor who failed to diagnose a patient’s leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm. The patient was later operated on and died. The doctor was placed on 12 months of probation and was required to complete some medical education;
  • A doctor who failed to do a rectal exam on a newborn who had not had any bowel movements. The infant developed a toxic enlargement of the colon and eventually died. The doctor was merely reprimanded;
  • A doctor who failed to adequately evaluate a patient before surgery. The patient had a history of hypertension and heart problems, and became comatose during surgery. The doctor was put on probation for 24 months and had a restriction placed on his practice;
  • A doctor who failed to diagnose fluid collection around the heart during a CT scan. The patient experienced cardiac arrest and died. The doctor was put on probation for 13 months.

Counting only the two most serious disciplinary actions taken against a physician in each case, there were 1,138 disciplinary actions issued against 794 doctors in Arizona over the 10-year period covered by the Questionable Doctors Online database (1992-2001). For the five most serious offenses, there were: 210 for substandard care, incompetence or negligence; 25 for criminal convictions; 83 for misprescribing or overprescribing drugs; 111 for substance abuse; and 16 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 (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. Arizona ranked No. 6 on the list, with 88 serious sanctions levied in a state with 11,791 doctors, for a rate of 7.46 per 1,000 doctors. For the past three years, Arizona’s medical board has been among the best in the country in Public Citizen’s rating of medical board performance, ranking first in 2001 and sixth in 2002. (To view the ranking, click here.)

“In 1998, Arizona’s medical board was one of the worst in the country, at No. 38, but following a series of high-quality investigative news stories, the state legislature instituted a series of reforms that led to increased funding and staffing for the board. In addition, the previous board director was fired,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Patients in Arizona have clearly benefited from those changes.”

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.

###