Web Site Data on Disciplined Doctors Inadequate

Feb. 2, 2000

Web Site Data on Disciplined Doctors Inadequate

Most States Post Some Data, But Many Sites Lack Information,
Are Not User Friendly, Study Shows

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Forty-one states name disciplined doctors on their Web sites, but the information about the disciplinary actions varies greatly, is often inadequate and can be difficult for people to access, according to a study conducted by Public Citizen?s Health Research Group.

    Just one state — Maryland — got an “A” from surveyors, who used a grading scale based on Web site content. Maryland earned the high grade because it posts the name of the disciplined doctor, the offense committed, the disciplinary action taken, a summary narrative of the misconduct and the full text of the board order. All other sites lack at least one of those pieces of information.

    “Patients deserve better,” said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen?s Health Research Group. “States ought to be more thorough and more consistent in informing consumers through the Internet about dangerous doctors. This would not only help patients but save state medical boards the time and expense of responding to consumers? queries.”

    More than ever, people are turning to the Internet for medical information — to fill prescriptions, seek medical advice and learn about medical research. Many people are also using the Internet to gather information about their doctors, particularly patients who are members of HMOs and must randomly select from a group of doctors about whom they know nothing,

    Medical boards typically discipline doctors for such things as negligence, incompetence, sexual misconduct and violations of criminal laws. Boards historically have not actively disseminated this information, preferring instead to shield physicians from adverse publicity. Now, however, some boards are venturing into the Internet age.

    Twenty-four states rated a “B” grade in Public Citizen?s study. Those included Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The remaining 26 states that post information about disciplined doctors — including such populous states as Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Georgia — earned grades “C” to “X” because of their failure to provide adequate information to consumers.

    Ten states post no disciplinary information at all. They are Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

    Some boards reported additional information that would be of interest to consumers, including data on malpractice claims (California, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts and Tennessee) and disciplinary actions taken against physicians by hospitals (California, Florida, Idaho and Massachusetts).

    Although 80 percent of the state medical boards provide some doctor-specific disciplinary information on the Internet, 14 million patients remain in the dark because they live in the 10 states where no such data is available on the Web. The boards in three of those states (Alaska, Montana and South Dakota) have Web sites but do not name disciplined doctors.

    “Those states that make no information available online about disciplined doctors should take immediate steps to post it,” Wolfe said. “It is inexcusable in this electronic age for patients to be unable to access this data.”

    As a result of the survey, Public Citizen also recommends that medical boards adopt minimum uniform standards for providing disciplinary information on the Internet. Further, the information should be easily accessible. Patients should be able to retrieve data by entering a physician?s name and/or license number in a search engine. The information available should include 10 years? worth of data and should be updated as frequently as boards meet and take actions.

    If a court overrules or vacates a board action and exonerates a doctor, the information on the board?s disciplinary action should be removed from the database, Public Citizen recommends. However, the information should remain posted while an appeal is pending.

    The report contains a state-by-state analysis of medical board Web sites, as well as state-specific recommendations on how the sites could be made more useful to consumers.

###