Public Citizen Releases Annual Ranking of State Medical Boards

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Public Citizen Releases Annual Ranking of State Medical Boards

California, Florida Join List of Ten Worst States in Disciplining Doctors; Minnesota Is Overall Worst State While Alaska Is Best

WASHINGTON - Public Citizen's annual ranking of state medical boards shows that
most states, including two of the largest, are not living up to their
obligations to protect patients from doctors who are practicing
substandard medicine, according to the report released today.

For the first time since Public Citizen has been publishing the
rankings, California, the largest state in the country, and Florida,
one of the largest, are among the 10 states with the lowest rates of
serious disciplinary actions. Minnesota was the worst state when it
came to disciplining doctors and, along with Maryland, South Carolina
and Wisconsin, has consistently been among the worst 10 states for each
of the last six rankings.

Overall, the rate of discipline for doctors in 2008 was 21.5 percent
lower than the peak year of 2004. In 2008, there were 2.92 serious
disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians, compared to 3.72 actions per
1,000 physicians in 2004. This means that if the higher 2004 rate of
discipline were still occurring, 770 more doctors would have been
subject to serious disciplinary actions in 2008 than actually were.

The annual rankings are based on data from the Federation of State
Medical Boards, specifically on the number of disciplinary actions
taken against doctors in 2008. Public Citizen calculated the rate of
serious disciplinary actions (revocations, surrenders, suspensions and
probation/restrictions) per 1,000 doctors in each state. The number of
actions in 2008 was averaged over the past three years to establish the
state's rank.

California is one of five states with the largest decrease in rank
for doctor discipline since the 2001-2003 period, dropping from a rank
of 22 to 43. The four other states with the biggest decline are Alabama
(13 to 36), Georgia (15 to 42), Mississippi (20 to 48) and New
Hampshire (25 to 46). All of these states had large decreases in the
actual rates along with the decrease in rank.

The best states when it comes to doctor discipline, in order, are
Alaska, Kentucky, Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Louisiana,
Iowa, Colorado and Maine. The five states whose rank has improved the
most since 2001-2003 are Hawaii (51 to 13), North Carolina (41 to 14),
Maine (34 to 10), the District of Columbia (42 to 17) and Illinois (35
to 15). The progress in these states is commendable because the medical
boards have figured out ways - often with legislatively mandated
increases in funding and staffing - to improve the protection for
patients from doctors who need to be disciplined but, in the past, were
disciplined much less rigorously.

"The overall national downward trend of serious disciplinary actions
against physicians is troubling because it indicates many states are
not living up to their obligations to protect patients from bad
doctors," said Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Public Citizen's acting president
and director of its Health Research Group. "State lawmakers must give
serious attention to finding out why their states are failing to
discipline doctors and then they need to take action - either
legislatively or by applying pressure on medical boards. Otherwise,
they will continue to allow doctors to endanger the lives and health of
their residents because of inadequate discipline."

Boards are likely to do a better job disciplining physicians if most, if not all, of the following conditions exist:

  • They have adequate funding (all money from license fees going to
    fund board activities instead of going into the state treasury for
    general purposes);
  • They have adequate staffing;
  • They undertake proactive investigations rather than only responding to complaints;
  • They use all available/reliable data from other sources such as
    Medicare and Medicaid sanctions, hospital sanctions and malpractice
    payouts;
  • They have excellent leadership;
  • They are independent from state medical societies and other parts of the state government; and
  • A reasonable legal framework exists for disciplining doctors (the
    "preponderance of the evidence" rather than "beyond reasonable doubt"
    or "clear and convincing evidence" as the legal standard for
    discipline).
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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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