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D.C. Board Rarely Punishes Physicians

"It's not a pressing need" to track complaints, Granger said. "I'm not sure what we would do other than marvel at the size of the folders."

But he added that the "vast majority of the complaints do not result in a disciplinary action against the licensee."

Among members of the D.C. Board of Medicine are Andrea D. Sullivan, left, Ronald Simmons, James A. Towns and Lawrence A. Manning. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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In the four cases that led to punishment between 1999 and 2004, the board knew the fate of the complaints. But for those against the remaining doctors, it did not compile how many led to investigations or were summarily dismissed.

For those who have gone to the board to air a grievance against a doctor, the process can be frustrating.

Montgomery County resident Elizabeth Ayala filed a complaint with the board in 2000 alleging that a doctor was rough with her during a procedure and left her feeling "violated."

"I was told they would put [the complaint] in their file and if they had any other complaints, they would take action against him," she recalled. "What I really wanted them to do at the time was make sure he wasn't doing these kind of objectionable practices."

Kim Wilczewski, who lives in Northern Virginia, filed a complaint with the board in 1999 accusing a doctor of violating patient confidentiality by "discussing her diagnosis, prognosis and other matters" with her employer, board records show. The board sent her a letter saying it would ask the doctor for his side of the story but that he wasn't required to provide any information. She said she never heard from the board again.

"I gave them a phone call, and they never responded," Wilczewski said. "They don't require the physician to respond, so why should they? I felt like I was wasting my time."

Penny Willett said she had a similar experience with the board when she complained that a doctor burned her during a procedure in 1999.

"I have permanent damage," said Willett, who lived in Charles County at the time. The board "did nothing. He was not reprimanded in any way, shape or form."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt and database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.

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