Doctor Discipline: Resources for Judging Quality in Health Care

November 21, 2014
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Summary: When we display prices for medical treatments, inevitably the question of quality comes up. Since price and quality are both hidden from public view in health care, we are always excited to see some source — any source — of quality information. One source: doctor disciplinary listings.

Summary: When we display prices for medical treatments, inevitably the question of quality comes up. Since price and quality are both hidden from public view in health care, we are always excited to see some source — any source — of quality information. One source: doctor disciplinary listings.

At this page, the New York State Department of Health Office of Professional Medical Conduct maintains a searchable database of public documents regarding professional misconduct and physician discipline actions taken. Surrendered licenses, false billing, revoked licenses, failure to file a tax return — it’s a sad set of stories.

What’s good: if you want to know if your doctor has been convicted of manslaughter for issuing illegal prescriptions, you can find that information here.

Some of the data is from states outside of New York, we can see on a spot check. Do other states have similar disciplinary listings? With a little sleuthing, I found this page for Delaware, this page for New Hampshire, and this nationwide directory of state medical and osteopathic boards.

“Every state has a medical board and they typically post their disciplinary actions on their website in some manner,” said Marshall Allen of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigations news organization, who sent me this link. “But the information is not often stored in a user-friendly way.”

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Allen covers health for ProPublica, with a specialization in patient harm. He runs the Patient Harm Facebook group, and has written not only investigative pieces, but also pieces like ”
So You’ve Become a Patient Safety Statistic – Now What? Six recommended steps to take if you’ve suffered harm in a medical facility.”

While it’s not ideal to think of a directory of disciplinary actions as a proxy for quality metrics, in the health marketplace it’s hard to find good information on performance.

While we have not done a thorough investigative project on the quality of the information here — that would be a Herculean task, and one we expect would show that the data is not very good — at least it’s something. One wonders if a serious data-collecting effort would have averted the terrifying series of events described in this Texas Observer article, in which one doctor practiced for three years in Texas, leaving two patients dead and four paralyzed in a series of surgeries before the Texas Medical Board revoked his license.

Other resources exist for measuring quality in health care, and many of them come to very different conclusions. Here are some resources.

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