Whether a physician faces disciplinary action by their state medical board depends primarily on their own conduct. Practicing with competence, ethics, and integrity should insulate a doctor from any significant concerns that their license may be put in jeopardy. But it’s not only how you practice, but where you practice, that can determine how likely you are to face the scrutiny of your state’s medical licensing authorities.
Wide Discrepancies In State Medical Boards’ Level of Enforcement Activity
A comprehensive new report by Public Citizen found significant disparities between states in terms of the number of serious disciplinary actions brought against physicians between 2017-2019. The report’s authors concluded that these differences in the frequency of physician discipline had little if anything to do with the quality of a state’s doctors and everything to do with the aggressiveness or laxity of a state’s medical board:
“There is no reason to believe that physicians in any one state are more or less likely to be incompetent or miscreant than the physicians in any other state. Therefore, we believe any observed differences between the boards reflect variations in board performance rather than in physician behavior across different states.”
The report’s authors calculated the rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians in each state with either M.D. only or combined M.D./D.O. medical boards for the years 201, 2018, and 2019. They defined “serious disciplinary actions” as “those that had a clear impact on a physician’s ability to practice.”
The report found that Kentucky had the highest rate of serious physician discipline in the country, with an average of 2.29 serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians per year. The District of Columbia had the lowest rate with only 0.29 serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians per year. That means that the rate of such actions was 7.9 times higher in the state with the most active medical board in the country than in the lowest jurisdiction.
Illinois ranked 10th on the list, with a rate of 1.51 serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians.
Reasons For Differences In Physician Disciplinary Actions Across States
Public Citizen is an organization that generally favors increased consumer and patient protections and thus advocates for greater regulatory activity and enforcement. Therefore, it is no surprise that they concluded that “low rates of serious disciplinary actions suggest that medical boards are not adequately taking actions to discipline physicians responsible for negligent medical care or whose behavior is unacceptably dangerous to patients.”
The report recommended several policy changes, including:
- Assuring that revenue from physician license fees funds board activities “instead of sometimes going into the state treasury for general purposes.”
- Ensuring that boards have adequate staffing
- Including on medical boards members who have a commitment to safeguarding the public, “not protecting the livelihood of questionable physicians.”
- Opening the NPDB database to the public so that any person can do a background check on a doctor
- Increasing state legislative oversight of state medical boards
- Replacing some medical board members who are physicians with members of the public “with no ties to the medical profession, hospitals, or other providers.”
- Requiring that medical boards check with the NPDB when they receive complaints about a physician.
This report comes after a year in which physician disciplinary actions plummeted nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, until and unless the time comes that COVID-19 is no longer an existential public health threat, it is unlikely that any state medical boards will dramatically change the way they do business.
Louis Fine: Chicago Physician License Defense Attorney
The moment you are contacted by IDFPR or learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will get you back to your patients and your practice.
Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.