Report Finds That State Medical Boards in 2008 Disciplined Fewer Physicians Than in 2004
Serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards against physicians have declined by 21.5% from 3.72 actions per 1,000 physicians in 2004 to 2.92 actions per 1,000 physicians in 2008, according to a report released on Monday by Public Citizen, the Washington Post reports (Thompson, Washington Post, 4/21). For the report, Public Citizen examined data collected from the Federation of State Medical Boards to rank all 50 states and the District of Columbia by the three-year averages of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 4/20). The group defined serious disciplinary actions as license revocations, surrenders, suspensions, probations or restrictions (Washington Post, 4/21).
Alaska was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for disciplining physicians. The state medical board took 6.54 disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians from 2006 through 2008 (Barton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/20). Minnesota was ranked the lowest with disciplinary action taken against fewer than one in 1,000 physicians (Lerner, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/21). The jurisdictions with the highest increased rates of disciplinary actions include the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine and North Carolina. Sidney Wolfe, a physician and director of Public Citizen's health research group, said, "The progress in these states is commendable because the medical boards have figured out ways ... to improve the protection for patients from doctors who need to be disciplined but, in the past, were disciplined much less rigorously."
Wolfe added, "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" (Washington Post, 4/21).
Ruth Martinez, head of the complaint review unit of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, said Public Citizen's ranking is "completely meaningless without putting it into context," noting that Minnesota helps physicians more than other states on correcting problems through educational and treatment programs, rather than through disciplinary actions (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/21).
Public Citizen's full ranking of state medical boards is available online.