The number of disciplinary actions taken against physicians has steadily increased over the last 20 years, but the number of severe disciplinary actions as a result remains lower than earlier in the decade.
That’s according to a pair of recently released reports: the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) Summary of 2011 Board Actions, and the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group Ranking of the Rate of State Medical Boards’ Serious Disciplinary Actions, 2009 to 2011.
The FSMB summary, which is conducted annually, is based on a compilation of disciplinary actions initiated by its 70 member medical and osteopathic boards.
It found that total disciplinary actions taken against physicians increased nearly 7 percent between 2010 and 2011.
That increase reflects an ongoing trend. For several years, except for a few minor variations, that number has steadily risen:
• In 1991, the FSMB report found that medical boards instituted 3,140 disciplinary actions against physicians.
• In 2001, that number had increased to 4,662 (a 48 percent increase over 1991).
• In 2011, that number jumped to 6,034 disciplinary actions (a 29 percent increase over 2001, and a 92 percent increase over 1991).
Last year, internist Humayun J. Chaudhry, FSMB president and CEO, told American Medical News that he attributes the steady increase in disciplinary actions to better sharing of information across state lines.
FSMB's Disciplinary Alert Service, for instance, notifies medical boards within 48 hours when one of their licensees has been disciplined in another state. The board in that state can then handle the situation as it sees fit.
In addition, social media usage may also be playing a small role in the more recent increase of disciplinary actions. Fifty-six percent of medical and osteopathic boards say they have restricted, suspended, or revoked at least one physicians’ license for online missteps, according to a recent survey appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Public Citizen Health Research Group report, noted earlier, analyzed the FSMB data to calculate the rate of serious disciplinary actions (revocations, surrenders, suspensions, and probation/restrictions) taken by state medical boards. It found that overall in 2011, the rate of serious actions was 3.06 per 1,000 physicians.
That’s a slight increase over the 2.07 per 1,000 physicians rate in 2010; however, the 2011 rate is still one of the lowest rates recorded in the past 10 years. Between 2001 and 2006, that rate never fell below 3.18, according to the report.
The report also ranks the states based on the amount of serious disciplinary actions taken against physicians over a three-year period from 2009 to 2011.
South Carolina doled out the least amount of serious disciplinary actions, with a rate of 1.33 per 1,000 physicians. Wyoming doled out the most, with a rate of 6.79 serious actions per 1,000 physicians.
Why do you think the rates of serious disciplinary actions taken vary so much across states?