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Study: Doctors disciplined by hospitals but not state boards

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SALT LAKE CITY — A new report from a watchdog group claims state medical boards aren't doing their job to protect patients. The numbers suggest dozens of Utah doctors should have been disciplined but weren't.

The group Public Citizen says there are doctors in Utah who have been disciplined by their hospital but not by the state. The group says hospitals took action against 82 Utah doctors in the past 20 years. But more than half of them did not face any licensing action from the state medical board.

Utah doctors over 20 years
  • 82 disciplined by hospital
  • 54% of those faced no action from state medical board

"One of two things is happening, and either is alarming," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group and overseer of the study. "Either state medical boards are receiving this disturbing information from hospitals but not acting upon it, or much less likely, they are not receiving the information at all. Something is broken and needs to be fixed."

The state just received the report and hasn't had a chance to look at it, said Francine Giani, executive director of the Department of Commerce and its Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Her department does not regulate hospitals, but she said, "When we get a complaint on a doctor, we take it seriously. We investigate."

The group says some of the offenses are somewhat serious. Nationally, it found examples of sexual misconduct, fraud, malpractice and negligence. Many times it was something threatening patient health or safety.

The report says the hospitals took quick action, especially for the more serious offenses. But the state boards did not.

Analysis of the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use File for 1990-2009
  • 10,672 physicians had one or more clinical privilege actions — revocation or restriction of clinical privileges
  • 45% also had one or more state licensing actions
  • 5,887 -- or 55% -- had no state licensing actions

The report at says in 32 states plus Washington D.C., 50 percent or more of the physicians with clinical privilege actions had never had a state licensing action in that or any other state.

The worst by percentage is Hawaii, where 77 percent of doctors went undisciplined. However, California had a greater number with 710 doctors reportedly not facing state censure over the past 20 years.

"Why have 5,887 physicians who have been disciplined by hospitals not been disciplined by state medical boards? Why have 220 physicians who have been found by peer review to be an immediate threat to health or safety of patients not had a medical board action?" Wolfe asked. "The public deserves to know."

Public Citizen sent the report to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, urging the agency's Office of Inspector General to reinstitute investigations of state medical boards, something the group says has not been done since 1993. Public Citizen also notified the 33 medical boards that have had the worst records in disciplining these doctors.

Public Citizen does not have the identities of those doctors and says some of them may no longer be practicing anyway, but it's because of choice, not because state officials took action.

Story written by Mary Richards with contributions from Viviane Vo-Duc.

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