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More Docs Cited For Misconduct Complaints Growing Quickly From Within Medical Community

State medical boards disciplined 3,685 physicians in 1994 for misconduct ranging from abuse of their prescription authority to alcohol and drug impairment to sexual misconduct.

The number of physicians whose licenses were revoked or suspended or who were reprimanded grew by 11.8 percent from 1993, Dr. Gerald J. Bechamps, president of the Federation of State Medical Boards, said Wednesday.

That represents less than 1 percent of the 615,854 physicians licensed to practice medicine.

But the federation said that in the past three years, the number of reprimands, revocations and other disciplinary actions against physicians has increased 38 percent.

Bechamps, of Winchester, Va., said the medical boards are “on the front line when it comes to protecting the public from incompetent, impaired or unfit physicians.”

Medical professionals, rather than the general public, are filing a growing number of the complaints - about 25 percent, federation leaders told a news conference.

But the rate of disciplinary actions fluctuated among the states.

Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, an outspoken critic of the medical profession, said in response to the federation report: “A large number of doctors each year injure or kill patients through negligence. But only a fraction of even those doctors seem to be the subject of disciplinary actions by the states.”

Many physicians receive no more than a slap on the wrist from state boards, he charged.

The federation released these statistics for

A total of 4,155 actions were taken against 3,685 physicians.

Some 86 percent of the actions were deemed “prejudicial,” meaning the physicians lost their licenses or their licenses were restricted, the doctors were put on probation or they received a formal reprimand.

Some 14 percent of the actions were non-prejudicial or administrative in nature, including reinstatements of licenses, replacement of lost licenses, denials and modifications due to a physician’s illness.

The federation did not provide a breakdown of the types of offenses that got physicians in trouble.

But Dr. Robert E. Porter, an orthopedic surgeon from Lebanon, N.H., and the federation’s presidentelect, said the biggest problem was physician impairment and drug and substance abuse. About 10 percent or less involved sexual misconduct, he said.


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