About four of every 1,000 doctors in Utah received "serious" disciplinary action from the state or federal government last year - the 12th highest rate in the nation.
That included medical license suspensions, revocations and probations for infractions ranging from illegally prescribing narcotics to themselves to false billing, negligent care, giving excess drugs to drug-dependent people and practicing types of medicine for which they were not licensed.That's according to a study released Thursday by the Washington-based Public Citizen Health Research Group, which was founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
The report also lists 224 Utah health-care providers by name who received disciplinary action since 1982 for everything from raising marijuana to committing insurance fraud and practicing medicine and psychology without licenses. It also listed 9,479 such "questionable doctors" nationwide.
Public Citizen says that Utah's relatively high rate of serious disciplinary action is not because Utah doctors are worse than elsewhere, but rather that Utah is among the most diligent states in policing its health-care professionals.
The study quoted David Robinson, a former FBI agent who heads the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, saying that is because the Utah Physician's Licensing Board is only advisory, and most disciplinary action is left to him and his invesPlease see DOCTORS on B2
"Physicians are much more forgiving," the study quotes Robinson. For such reasons, Public Citizen is recommending that all states sever any remaining formal links between licensing boards and state medical societies.
Public Citizen says Robinson's division has 18 investigators who give priority to complaints it receives about the 3,100 physicians in the state. But it says, "Investigators don't just sit back and screen complaints; like good law enforcement professionals, they use sources to sniff out errant physicians."
Public Citizen said the only states it has found that do not wait to receive complaints before initiating investigations are Utah, Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia.
Public Citizen also praised the Utah division's public information policy - which publishes a quarterly newsletter listing all disciplinary actions against licensed professionals.
While many disciplinary actions are listed by states without saying what offense brought them, Public Citizen's study did find the following types of infractions among Utah health-care providers between 1984 and 1990:
- 39 cases of misprescribing or overprescribing drugs.
- 29 cases of practicing without a valid license.
- 24 cases of personal drug or alcohol abuse.
- 14 cases of non-compliance with a licensing board order or a professional rule.
- 11 cases each of criminal convictions and insurance fraud.
- 10 cases of negligence or substandard care.
- Eight cases of discipline by another state, six cases of exceeding professional limitations, three cases of falsifying records or reports, two cases of lying to the board and 28 cases of other professional misconduct.
Among the infractions the report listed that led to disciplinary action in 1990 were:
- Six cases of dentists prescribing drugs either beyond the scope of dentistry or to drug-dependent persons or improperly to themselves.
- Three other cases of medical doctors improperly prescribing drugs to drug-dependent people.
- Three cases of doctors prescribing narcotics or other controlled substances for themselves.
- Two cases of chiropractors not practicing according to accepted standards.
- Two cases of false billings.
- One case of a doctor maltreating patients "by reason of gross ignorance" and prescribing drugs in excess amounts.
Public Citizen also said it feels licensing boards are getting worse at protecting the public because the number of serious disciplinary actions they took last year decreased by 4.8 percent.
"Far too many state boards seem more interested in protecting physicians than they are in protecting patients," said Ingrid VanTuinen, one of the authors of Public Citizen's report.