State medical boards disciplining more docs

State medical boards punished 6.8 percent more dangerous doctors last year, with disciplinary actions rising from 5,652 in 2010 to 6,034 actions in 2011, according to a new report from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

The FSMB said the increased discipline likely stemmed from better training and accreditation of investigators, improved communication and reciprocity between states, and streamlined reporting between the National Practitioner Data Bank and various state physician licensing agencies, HealthLeaders Media reported.

But despite the uptick, a report from consumer watchdog Public Citizen noted that the state medical boards still are falling short on protecting patients from inferior care, thanks partly to shrinking state budgets.

While last year's rate of serious actions per 1,000 physicians (3.06) increased slightly from 2010, it is still significantly lower than the peak rate in 2004 of 3.72 serious actions, according to a Public Citizen statement yesterday.  

The watchdog group also raised concerns that most states are underdisciplining physicians with less severe actions like fines and reprimands, as opposed revoking licenses for serious offenses.

Using FSMB data, Public Citizen found that South Carolina has done the worst job of disciplining doctors in the nation, only taking 1.33 serious actions per 1,000 physicians in 2011. Wyoming's board had the highest physician penalty rate, with 6.79 serious actions--five times as much as South Carolina.

"There's really no difference in the quality of doctors from state to state," Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, told HealthLeaders. "What's different is the quality of the state medical boards," he said.

The watchdog group, in its report, recommends boards have high-quality leadership and conduct proactive investigations rather than react to complaints to efficiently protect patients.

To learn more:
- check out the FSMB report (.pdf)
- here's the Public Citizen report (.pdf) and statement
- read the HealthLeaders article