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C. Todd Alley
C. Todd Alley
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New Report Suggests Declining Physician Discipline

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Public Citizen, a well-known, well-respected non-profit public interest organization, just released its yearly study of state medical boards for 2008. In this study, Public Citizen tracked the records of all 50 state medical boards’ serious disciplinary actions. “Serious disciplinary action” means actions which include revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probations.

The report consists of the number of serious actions taken per 1000 practicing physicians in each state. It then determines nationwide and statewide trends. Since 2004, serious actions taken nationwide are down over 20% (3.72 to 2.92). Without any data to suggest that perhaps there is simply less number of physicians “deserving” of discipline, the data can only suggest that the variability is a result of changes in boards’ practices. This being the case, medical boards across the nation are “dropping the ball” when it comes to protecting patients from doctors who need to be disciplined.

Most worrisome about the report is finding that Florida ranks in the top 10 worst states when it comes to serious disciplinary actions taken. Florida had always been ranked fairly low, however 2008 was by far their “worse” year. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, acting president of Public Citizen, says the change may be attributed to budget constraints, limiting the board’s ability to investigate complaints or open up their own investigations. Such a poor ranking may also be indicative of poor leadership, lack of true independence from state medical societies, or an unreasonable legal standard for disciplining doctors.

Many feel that lessor penalties – such as fines or reprimands – do not do enough to get the attention of the medical community. If the state medical boards, including Florida’s, do not rigorously punish all those medical doctors deserving of such punishment, then it simply isn’t fulfilling their obligation to the state, to the community, and to the patient.