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Doctors Need More Discipline

State medical boards – which have the power to reprimand and discipline incompetent doctors – need to do more to protect patients, according to critics who say the boards are too passive.

“Obviously, they are not doing enough since we have such large concerns about the quality of care,” said Judith Hibbard, professor of health policy at the University of Oregon.

Hibbard said that boards tend to take serious action only when a physician’s actions have been “really egregious.” In her estimation, that’s not sufficient. “There are not enough serious consequences,” she said.

Medical Boards’ Responsibilities

Medical boards are responsible for issuing, denying, suspending, and revoking medical licenses. When a medical board disciplines a doctor, a record of the disciplinary is made available for public access.

However, most board websites contain only partial physician profiles, omitting important information such as malpractice complaints, felony convictions, discipline by other state boards, and/or hospital restrictions.

“A Terrible Job”

“Most of the medical boards are doing a terrible job. They are passive. They wait for complaints to come in. Even if complaints come in, they are not as active as they should be in finding out what else is out there about this doctor,” said Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy group that ranks state medical boards according to the number of disciplinary actions taken as well as the quality of information provided on their websites.

The Individual and the System

While disciplining negligent or incompetent doctors is certainly crucial to improving the current state of healthcare in the United States, such action is not enough.

“The kind of problems we have with medical care aren’t just the bad apple problems,” said Dr. Hibbard. “The more effective way (to improve) – rather than looking at the individual – is to look at ways the whole system has failed and how the system can be improved.

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