State Medical Boards Disciplined Less Doctors in 2010: Report

Throughout the United States, fewer doctors are being disciplined by state medical boards than in prior years, which the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen suggests is a failure on the part of those boards to protect patients from preventable injuries caused by medical mistakes.

Public Citizen’s annual ranking of state medical board disciplinary actions found that medical boards on average only took 2.97 serious disciplinary actions per every 1,000 physicians last year. That is well below the 2004 peak of 3.72 actions per 1,000 doctors and slightly lower than the 3.05 rate in 2009.

The state least likely to discipline its doctors was Minnesota, where there were only 1.29 disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors. The state has held that title for the last eight years. The state most likely to discipline its doctors was Louisiana, which had a disciplinary rate of 5.98 serous actions per 1,000 physicians.

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Public Citizen sees the lack of disciplinary actions as a failure on the part of the medical boards to live up to their obligations to protect patients. Some of that can probably be blamed on tighter state budgets, Public Citizen researchers determined.

The rankings follows a report released in late March that found more than half of the doctors who lost clinical privileges or were restricted by the hospital where they worked were not disciplined by their state boards. There were 1,119 cases where state boards took no action even though those doctors were disciplined for incompetence, negligence and medical malpractice by their host hospital.

“There is, unfortunately, considerable evidence that most boards are inadequately disciplining physicians,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “Action must be taken, legislatively and through public pressure on medical boards themselves, to increase the amount of discipline, and thus, the amount of patient protection.”

Public Citizen recommended that state medical boards would do better at disciplining doctors if they received adequate funding and staffing, conducted proactive investigations, used more available data and were independent from the influence of state medical societies and other branches of state government, among other recommendations.

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