FSMB data show modest dip in disciplinary actions

The figures for one year are in contrast to a five-year increase of 35%.

By Damon Adams — Posted May 22, 2006

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Disciplinary actions taken against physicians by state medical boards dropped slightly from 2004 to 2005, according to a new report by the Federation of State Medical Boards. But board officials said figures for one year are not enough to point to a trend that the decrease will continue.

In fact, during the past five years, disciplinary actions against doctors have increased 35%, the report shows.

Prejudicial actions such as suspensions, revocations and reprimands against physicians increased from 4,015 in 2001 to 5,412 in 2005. The number of non-prejudicial actions, which frequently are administrative and include actions such as license denial due to lack of qualification, went from 647 to 801 during the same period, a 24% increase.

Board leaders say reasons for the increase include improved efforts to crack down on problem physicians, streamlined complaint processes, additional board staff in some states and a rise in the physician population. A focus on patient safety by the public and elected officials also has contributed by raising awareness of medical errors and placing more scrutiny on medical boards.

"All of the boards are looking at ways in which they can be more diligent and efficient in serving the public," said James N. Thompson, MD, president and CEO of the FSMB, which released the numbers last month.

The Florida Board of Medicine increased total actions from 381 in 2001 to 901 in 2005. The board refined its complaint process, reducing the time it takes to resolve complaints. Other improvements included adding 50 employees and using outside consultants.

The Texas Medical Board benefited from a 2003 law that led to more funding, 30 new employees and speedier handling of complaints, including a focus on serious offenses such as sexual misconduct. Total board actions have more than doubled, from 241 in 2001 to 448 in 2005.

"A lot of it is the board is more aggressively going after standard-of-care violations," said Jill Wiggins, Texas Medical Board spokeswoman. "We're just constantly fine-tuning our efforts."

Some boards saw decreases between 2004 and 2005, including California, Georgia and Louisiana.

Total actions by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners dropped to 64 in 2005, 18 fewer than in 2004.

"The [Louisiana] board was actually shut down for some time" because of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Thompson said.

Nationwide, all actions taken by medical boards dipped by a total of only 52.

Board officials say substance abuse, unprofessional conduct and prescribing violations typically are the main reasons for discipline.

"I like to think the boards are doing a good job," said urologist N. Stacy Lankford, MD, president of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana and chair-elect of the FSMB's board of directors. "Everybody's doing the best they can with the tools they have."

Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based group, said the drop in disciplinary actions in 2005 means that most state boards are doing a bad job of protecting the public, thus exposing patients to doctors who are not practicing good medicine. In its analysis of FSMB data, the group said Kentucky ranked best in disciplining doctors and Mississippi ranked worst.

Legislation and pressure on medical boards would make the boards improve, the group said.

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Board actions

Overall, state medical boards have increased their disciplinary actions against physicians in the past five years. Here's a look at actions boards have taken:

Non-prejudicial actions Prejudicial actions Total actions
2001 647 4,015 4,662
2002 706 4,169 4,875
2003 640 4,590 5,230
2004 763 5,502 6,265
2005 801 5,412 6,213

Source: Federation of State Medical Boards, Trends in Physician Regulation, April

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External links

"Trends in Physician Regulation," Federation of State Medical Boards, April, in pdf (link)

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