Although medical malpractice claims are common in the Boston area, Massachusetts is not among the 33 states cited by a recent study which found that most states do not adequately discipline potentially dangerous physicians.

The non-profit public interest group Public Citizen examined the records of the 10,672 physicians listed in the National Practitioner Data Bank and found that state medical boards did not discipline 55 percent of the physicians who had either revoked or restricted clinical privileges at the hospitals that employed them.

Consumer Affairs reports that physicians must have serious behavioral or performance problems to warrant clinical privilege actions. The physician who directed the study, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, said that she was concerned that so many state medical boards did not discipline these potentially dangerous physicians.

“One of two things is happening, and either is alarming,” Dr. Wolfe said. “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.”

Medical boards who discipline physicians can oversee or possibly limit the physician’s practice. Discipline from a medical board can help prevent patient harm from a physician’s failure to diagnose serious conditions or substandard care. A record of state discipline can also warn other state medical boards and the physician’s future employers of the physician’s record.

The study reveals that medical boards failed to discipline 5,887 physicians with clinical restrictions. These physicians included several subgroups:

  • 1,119 of the physicians had records of incompetence, physician negligence or malpractice.
  • 605 of the physicians had records of substandard care.
  • 220 of the physicians were characterized as “an immediate threat to health or safety.”

The study was sent to the 33 states with the worst records and to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Source: Consumer Affairs, “Study Finds Little Action Taken Against Dangerous Doctors,” 3/15/11