There is the Minnesota doctor who was fined $3,000 for sexually abusing patients. And there is the Illinois dentist who was put on probation for advertising that he practiced preventive, and not general, dentistry. Along with 6,890 others, they are all listed in the first nationwide compilation of health care workers disciplined by their professional peers.
The two-inch-thick book, entitled 6,892 Questionable Doctors was published yesterday, by Public Citizen Health Research Group.
The book lists MD's, osteopaths, chiropractors, dentists and podiatrists who have been disciplined by medical boards in 40 states, including Maryland and Virginia, and in the District. It also includes doctors who have been disciplined by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Medicare, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The report also includes summaries of how and why each doctor was punished.
Public Citizen officials say they see the book as a resource for consumers curious about their doctor's character and competence. "Usually you can find out more about the guy who fixes your car than you can about your doctor," said Bob Dreyfuss, a spokesman for the group. "If your doctor is on the list it ought to raise questions in your mind about the care you receive."
But officials at the American Medical Association and other medical groups say the book can be misleading. They say it is unfair to group doctors punished for minor offenses, such as failing to file registration forms, with doctors found guilty of incompetence or sexual abuse.
"They've listed offenses there that to us go all the way from a tiny parking ticket to armed robbery," said Robert McAfee, a Maine surgeon who is vice chairman of the AMA's Board of Trustees.
Public Citizen officials say they do worry about people misinterpreting the listings. But they say the public has a right to know about their doctor's record.
"We're suggesting that they ask questions and that's why the title of this book is "Questionable Doctors," not "Don't Go to this Doctor," said Nicole Simmons, a researcher who helped write the report. In fact, Public Citizen officials say, the book does not go far enough. Part of the reason is that medical review boards in 10 states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Missisippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota -- refused to make available lists of punished doctors. Another reason, they say, is because many physicians who ought to be punished are not.
"Most state disciplinary boards are doing a grossly inadequate job in disciplining doctors," said Sidney Wolfe, director of the research group. "There's a big gap between the amount of negligent behavior by doctors and the amount of serious disciplinary actions that are taken."
Some medical officials see it differently. "Medical boards could do a better job if they're better funded and staffed," said James Winn, a physician who is executive vice president of the Federation of State Medical Boards. "But they are doing a serviceable job."
Furthermore, Winn and AMA officials add, much of the information listed in Public Citizen's book is already public.
But Public Citizen officials say the list is necessary because many boards lack information on doctors from other states and do not give information over the phone. "It's difficult and almost impossible for consumers to be badgering a board that's uncooperative or overworked," Dreyfuss said.