Disciplinary actions up 6.4%
Federation of State Medical Boards study finds 5,721 instances last year
Medical boards across the country took disciplinary actions against 5,721 physicians in 2009, the highest number and the largest percentage jump in corrective measures in several years, according to an annual report from the Federation of State Medical Boards.
The 2009 tally was a 6.4% increase from the prior year, the largest single jump in five years. In 2008, disciplinary actions increased by 1% to 5,379. The largest single-year jump on record still handily belongs to 2004, when the figure increased 19% to 6,265, according to a review of the annual reports posted by the federation since 1990.
The most recent report includes summary data from 70 state medical and osteopathic boards from the 50 states and several American territories. The actions include license revocations, suspensions, forced retirements and other actions.
The federation discourages side-by-side comparisons of the number of disciplinary actions from states, because different boards have widely varying levels of staffing, resources, physicians monitored and stan- dards of review.
Although side-by-side comparisons are discouraged, the federation’s reports are typically followed up by an analysis from the Public Citizen Health Research Group, whose analysis comparing the states in the federation data often lead to changes in boards’ funding levels and disciplinary actions given.
The federation, however, does use the data to compute a statistic called the Composite Action Index, which is styled as a kind of barometer for changes in a state medical association’s actions. Specifically, the index is a weighted average of disciplinary actions using state demographics and the severity of the actions being taken.
Lisa Robin, senior vice president of advocacy and member services for the federation, said one reason for the uptick in discipline in recent years is states’ ability to share and receive information faster. Most states in the U.S. allow reciprocal actions, in which medical boards can take action against a physician based on behavior reported to a licensing board in another state, she said.
“Medical boards are diligent in investigat- ing complaints, and they are dependent on the information they receive,” Robin said. “Our disciplinary alert service allows us to proactively alert all other states when a licensee gets an action in another jurisdiction.”
Looking at percentage changes in the index, the New Hampshire and South Dakota medical boards saw the highest relative increases in their indexes, with both states more than doubling their disciplinary actions to 16 from seven the year before.
The only other state whose index more than doubled was Nebraska, where the medical board handed out 69 actions in 2009 compared to 32 the year before.
In contrast, the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine and the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners saw the largest percentage decreases in their index rankings, with those boards handing out 38 (16 in 2009 vs. 54 in 2008) and 36 (20 in 2009 vs. 56 in 2008) fewer disciplinary actions, respectively.
The average increase in the Composite Action Index across all the 63 state medical and osteopathic boards and categories for which two years of data are available was 7%.