Study: Medical board discipline varies widely

Doctors who make serious mistakes or behave unprofessionally stand a much better chance of being disciplined in Alaska than Mississippi. That's one of the findings of an annual report issued this week by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which ranks states by how many serious disciplinary actions each state's medical board took in 2006. The research, drawing on the Federation of State Medical Boards, found that the overall tally of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors fell 10.4 percent from 2005 to 2006, to 2,916 actions from 3,255 actions in 2005. That averaged out to 3.18 serious actions per 1,000 physicians. States with the most aggressive medical boards included Alaska, with 7.30 actions per 1,000 physicians, Kentucky (7.10), and Wyoming (6.37). The other end of the spectrum included Mississippi, with 1.41 serious actions per 1,000 physicians, along with South Carolina (1.45), Minnesota (1.45) and South Dakota.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group, argues that since it's likely that erring physicians are more common in, say, Kentucky than Minnesota, disciplinary rates shouldn't vary this much. Rather than implying that one state's doctors are better than another's, the data suggests that some states aren't handling enforcement well, Wolfe says.

To get more details from the study:
- see the Public Citizen press release
- read this report