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Doctors Behaving Badly: Medical boards should drop the stone tools, join the digital age

Doctors Behaving Badly: Medical boards should drop the stone tools, join the digital age

Picture of William Heisel

Antidote has been on an alphabetical tour of state medical boards this year. As summer fades, I thought it would be a good time to pull over. To show where we've been, I created this Google map, and I will update it weekly.


View in a larger map

First, why this road trip?

When Michelle Levander, the editor-in-chief of ReportingOnHealth and one of the smartest journalists you will ever meet, first talked to me in 2008 about my joining the site, I suggested a weekly item about doctors straying outside the lines of accepted medical behavior.

Bad doctor stories have always been a reader favorite, and I wanted to remind reporters and the public to constantly be vigilant about doctors' credentials and claims. Initially Antidote called the feature "Contraindications" to show that I took the subject seriously.

Too seriously.Nobody seemed to understand what "Contraindications" meant, and some of my (few) devoted readers asked me, "Why don't you write about bad doctors anymore?"

So I changed the title to "Doctors Behaving Badly," an homage to the British sitcom "." A doctor friend of mine suggested I call it "Doctors Gone Wild."

By the end of 2009, I thought it would be good to stop picking random, oddball doctors for a while and turn my focus more onto the agencies ostensibly monitoring them.

Here's what I have found so far.

In most states, detailed information about a doctor's disciplinary, criminal or malpractice histories is either nonexistent or heavily redacted. The worst states, in alphabetical order, are: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois and Kansas.

Even in the best case scenarios, despite massive advances in transparency, accessibility and accountability among government agencies, medical boards use antiquated and obtuse technology that confuses, frustrates and deceives consumers.

A cynic might think that their websites have been designed to shield doctors from public scrutiny. The boards, after all, are made up mostly of doctors, and the doctor's lobbies nationwide are among the best funded and most effective voices in state legislatures.

I think the problem lies in poor website design. A board starts with a simple site that allows people to see if a doctor has a valid license. Then that same board adds scanned documents from its disciplinary files, but instead of linking these two things together, it puts them in completely different parts of its site. When the board gets around to adding malpractice information or criminal histories, it layers those on top, too, instead of fully integrating them.

The effect is a stratified system of information that lets patients think their physicians have a clean history when, in fact, their records are simply too hard to find. States such as Alabama, Georgia and provide a lot of information but make it unnecessarily difficult to locate.

I am nearly half way through the country at this point. Right now, the leads all other agencies in the way it provides information to the public in one easy-to-use and largely complete database. Like all medical boards, the board should provide consumers with longer histories, but the information that is provided is detailed and dummy-proof.

My reporting at The Orange County Register and the reporting of my fine colleagues there played a role in driving the state to improve its site, but the agency itself has made advances through the work of some great executives over the years, some visionary board members and one constant: , the best agency PIO you will ever meet. Cohen can be tough on reporters and has called this reporter "shrill" more than once, but she is an honest broker. I have asked her to send me enough paper and electronic documents to fill a community college library, and she has never balked. This cannot be said for most other medical boards, state agencies, federal agencies or universities.

California's success is not attributable to size alone. Small states actually do a much better job than many larger ones. Idaho and make information relatively easy to find while Illinois, one of the country's provides next to nothing online.

As far as discipline goes, that requires a more detailed analysis, and perhaps I will put that together before year's end. For now, thanks for coming along for the ride with Antidote. I hope you enjoy our trips through Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and beyond in the weeks to come.

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Doctors Behaving Badly: Faith Healer Finally Steps Outside Medical Board's Good Graces

Doctors Behaving Badly: WMDs won't cost doctors their MD in Arkansas

Doctors Behaving Badly: Emergency care physician reported for duty drunk

Doctors Behaving Badly: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Colorado, Part 1

Doctors Behaving Badly: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Colorado, Part 2

Doctors Behaving Badly: Connecticut fertility doctor survives despite bombshell accusation

Doctors Behaving Badly: Toys in the pediatrician's basement didn't make it less of a dungeon

Doctors Behaving Badly: Warned about doctor's dungeon, hospital shrugged

Doctors Behaving Badly: DC anesthesiologist was caught with painkillers meant for babies

Doctors Behaving Badly: Florida Doc Charged with Soliciting Underage Sex Online

Doctors Behaving Badly: Georgia ob/gyn made his office a singles bar

Doctors Behaving Badly: Hawaii psychiatrist hides from sex abuse troubles with "mahalo" from state

Doctors Behaving Badly: Idaho board bars doctor from tummy tucks, facelifts and other plastic surgery

Doctors Behaving Badly: Illinois obstetrician's malpractice case leaves one patient victorious, others stonewalled

Doctors Behaving Badly: Indiana doc plays the victim when finally caught overdosing patients

Doctors Behaving Badly: In Iowa, having an MD is a license to take meth

Doctors Behaving Badly: Kansas medical board hides misdeeds from public scrutiny

Comments

Picture of William Heisel

If you're curious about medical labs, check out this post:

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How plausible do you think it would be to write code to automatically generate the map? Are there easily discernible patterns in the reports that mark a really bad doctor? A manual approach is obviously limited by manpower, and without paying clients, I doubt there is significant manpower.

Picture of William Heisel

The code wouldn't be that hard if there were a clear location noted in every doctor profile. There are definitely discernible patterns. Here is one: overpresciptions. I actually have to dig through stacks of doctors who overprescribe just to find a doctor who has done something else wrong. Even with the guy I wrote about today, the focus was on the domestic violence but he also was accused of over-prescribing addictive drugs. Thanks for your comments.

Picture of Michelle Levander

Bill, Thanks for all your great reporting/blogging calling attention to this important issue. I hope it inspires other journalists to take on similar investigations in their communities. 

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This is great that you've brought this to the publics attention; however the public still has no idea how to make sure they don't end up in the wrong hands of a doctor that has problems.  If I didn't work in a hospital (quality, medical staff, risk management) areas, I would have no way of knowing anything about which physician to select.  There is no way of finding out this information because most state medical boards do not post this information.  Physicians enter into consent orders because of issues but the public doesn't know that - they are left in the dark.  The National Practitioner Data Bank isn't available to the public but that doesn't always give you accurate information - just settled claims and most don't always mean a lot.

Picture of Anabell Romero

Thank you for this great post Bill! It’s unfortunate that so many doctors, people you would think to be trustworthy, are incredibly unethical.

Thanks for mentioning Harbor-UCLA Hospital; I have friends and family that have horror stories of that place.

Keep up the great work!

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I believe you are hoping to elicit improvements from state medical boards that we never will get. See my study of the Ohio State Medical board at:

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Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.

Picture of Peter Lipson

State medical board have a long history of protecting doctors rather than the public.  

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[...] the really bad apples? Well, try the cool interactive map put together by William Heisel for the Reporting on Health [...]

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[...] pequeños Doctors Behaving Badly: Shedding Light on Poor Doctor Oversight by Medical Boards – William Heisel... Ecotrope: Fresh Ideas on Nature and Community – Oregon Public Broadcasting and NPR MindShift: [...]

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[...] Topical Reporting/Blogging, Small Site Doctors Behaving Badly: Shedding Light on Poor Doctor Oversight by Medical Boards – William Heisel... Ecotrope: Fresh Ideas on Nature and Community – Oregon Public Broadcasting and NPR MindShift: [...]

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[...] Doctors Behaving Badly: Shedding Light on Poor Doctor Oversight by Medical Boards – William Heisel... (@wheisel) // [...]

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[...] the 2011 OJAs Doctors Behaving Badly: Shedding Light on Poor Doctor Oversight by Medical Boards – William Heisel... Ecotrope: Fresh Ideas on Nature and Community – Oregon Public Broadcasting and NPR MindShift: How [...]

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William, I'll give you a better story. Why don't you report about how Medical Boards lie about, and ruin innocent physicians? This happens regularly. You could then really be doing the public a service: exposing the flagrant and blatant abuse of government power, and the violation of civil rights.

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Dear Anonymous,

I am very interested in hearing your story. I write for 2 different investigative journals and want to be fair and balanced. I do not have a story yet in the works on this topic, but have started doing the research for one.

If you wish, you can remain totally anonymous.

Contact me at your leisure.

Kathleen Cunningham
Medical Investigator
Certified Medical Legal Consultant
Great Falls, MT
406.788.1135
[email protected]
Staff Writer, "The Legal Investigator"
Contributing Writer, "Professional Investigator Magazine"
Member, National Association of Legal Investigators

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I was having a procedure at a dermatologist office this week. During the procedure he starting telling me some very perverted sexual stories. They were too bad to write on this page. Two nurses were in the room and one of them even told a story. I havent reported him yet, but I am in the process of obtaining an attorney. I hope something can be done to him as I bet this is not the first time he has done this.

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I've been a nurse for twenty-five years. I wish that there was a public place like Facebook where one could put their stories/experiences out there to warn potential patients or health care professionals of specific physicians' "antics". For too long, physicians have gotten away with unprofessional and unethical behavior - toward their staff and patients!!! Sadly, we, as nurses, tend to just "take it" and patients tend to justify or apologize for their behavior because - "he's busy". Apart from filing a formal complaint with a State Board, perhaps public shaming might keep some physicians in check?? I know a surgeon who yelled at a elderly patient's wife about an issue without finding out the facts - and that patient's wife ended up in the ED an hour and a half later with a heart attack!!

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I truly do love reading your stories about physicians and how they are just given a slight tap on the wrist for being unethical and unprofessional and illegal behaviors. But to no avail, they are still allowed to practice medicine and essentially go on like nothing ever happened. But nurse's are a whole other story. I speak from experience. In 2015 I was convicted of DUI and possession of a controlled substance not in a labeled container, which I did have a legal prescription for and showed that to the courts but they wouldn't drop the charge but from a felony to a Class III misdemeanor. When I was arrested for the DUI, I was asleep on a friend's couch, which, is where this all started. But not to go into detail about that, I looked and applied everyday to many jobs and very few calls for interviews. I was honest and upfront about these convictions, but no one wanted to give me a chance. So, I had to hire my lawyer for a 2nd time regarding the possession charge and the only option I had was to file order to have it set aside, and the judge who heard my case was more than willing to. So, I thought for sure I would find a job now. Nope, this happened in 2015, Nebraska Board of Nursing took about year and half to notify me of discipline actions to suspend my license for 2 years as I did not complete a drug and alcohol evaluation, so I had to rehire my lawyer to address this issue and even though the evaluation showed no problem with either substance, the nurse at LAP recommended 6 weeks of intensive outpatient therapy. I completed this, but for the recommendation of the therapist I saw, which was for anger management not drug or alcohol problems. So, I ended up having my license censured for 30 days in the end of Feb and first of March 2017, and have no restrictions against my license. But I am still unable to find a job in nursing. I want to see many things changed with the way this information is made available to the public and employers, I also believe the board of nursing holds the fate of many good nurse's in their hands, while they do also protect the public from the bad nurse's, something needs to change somewhere so that myself and others do not have to be unemployed nurse's or leave nursing for that matter. I have been in nursing for 30yrs and 22 yrs of that as a LPN and then an RN. I live by the quote that "Nursing is not what you do, but who you are." If I cannot be a nurse again, what other purpose to do I serve??

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This is what we have at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, when my 1969 pathology report lists various unauthorized brain issue resections, under the guise of treating epilepsy. (ie-"scar tissue removal") along with a separate sheet, with a diagram of a "left temporal lobe", which is not mentioned in my pathology report, and representing someone else's left temporal lobe brain tissue. Such brain tissue which appears to have been utilized for a covert brain tissue transplant, when my personal X-rays reveal brain tissue in the resected areas, secured by 43 metallic implants in the cerebral cortex. Here's the kick in the nuts. The only person on the planet, whose left temporal lobe brain tissue, has not been accounted for, is former US President JFK. This adds up, considering all the secrecy surrounding JFK's missing brain tissue, and Neurosurgeon Dr. Harold J. Hoffman's covert brain surgical experiments upon unwitting children who suffer epilepsy. I'm always reminded, that we cannot afford to be complacent, while any individuals rights are denied or abused, and that the very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society. Let there be light.

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Since this page is from quite a while back, I am not expecting my comment to be to insightful or beneficial as it will most likely become lost in some sort of digital time information abyss. However, I'd very much like to share a couple current facts that otherwise may never come to light (as my health has become so erratic, I'm left to stress if I will be blessed to see my 40th birthday next yr).
1st. I do not foresee liscensed medical "professionals" changing their stripes anytime soon... Among several reasons is that the very ones responsible for a great deal of enforcing "good Dr. behavior" like members of a county health board, are engaged in criminal lifestyles and or do not believe rules apply to them. The high desert in southern Oregon apparently does not require background checks on their board of health members, or if they do..then they have extremely lax requirements for elected members. One such member holds a record of felonies that would make most cringe to think of such a dangerous person as being responsible for the welfare of a goldfish much less than ethical treatment towards a human being. Several arrests over the last 20+ years with countless felony assults, use of dangerous weapons, menacing, falsifying information, theft, endangerment... being fired from the hospital in the same county 19 years prior for getting caught in the act of accessing & copying personal records of fellow employees that had turned him in for questionable behavior with patients while dispensing meds. If those are the type of people elected to oversee any form of ethical medical behavior, it is no surprise that finding a "good" doctor can be a scary venture.
2nd. There are bad apples in every bunch, but I honestly believe the majority of Drs started their path in the medical field with the intent of helping others. Years of studies, exams, time devotion, sacrifices, & financial debt finally look worth the struggle as they proudly frame their accomplishments with that noble prefix their name has gained. Not long until they are overwhelmed by legalities, constant changes/add ons to regulations, standards, etc. In the medical authority ladders & branches. Plus malpractice insurance, rapidly growing medical technology, and dealing with people from all walks of life with countless differing beliefs and expectations that the Dr must engage with /in personal matters (healthwise) knowing that they rely on him for their health. Then not only does a doctor get to know many of his patients (some more & others less) but also has to continually experience some of those same people dying (depending on field of practice) which is a consistant they must learn to endure. What about surgeons, ER staff, Intensive care physicians/Nurses etc. that are responsible for saving a life they couldn't save ... & seeing the grief & detriment of loved ones day after day. Lawsuits left & right, guilt (for some) from misdiagnosis or prescription mix up, after a while of all that, no wonder the suicide rate for Drs is so high, that would be enough to drive the sane completely batty or develop a mirade of coping behaviors that can turn an empathetic caring human into the mess we are seeing today.
3rd $$$ ~time allotments~ legalities~knowledge~restrictions and more all have to be juggled with a diversity of people while the expectations for the outcome for all of them remain the same. That can't be the easiest equation.
On a personal note, I've had good doctors and the worst. I've seen more compassion in a hungry cat playing with a mouse than some so called Dr.s, been told my wishes to try special diets &/or other natural lifestyle change alternatives was pointless & my concern regarding years of medication side effects was "silly", being sent home with added prescriptions when I was pleading for guidance as to alternative methods (have suffered from tonic clonic seizures for 15 years after experiencing several tragic traumatic fatal events & also diagnosed ptsd, depression). But I've also had my GP (finally left my other GP of 10 years) take time out of his personal lunch hour to spend an extra 20 min. explaining the basic concepts of neuro pathways, & how emotions can have physical effects, & try to reassure me I wasn't a lost cause. That effort makes all the difference in the world. I also learned that if you don't advocate for your health .. nobody else will (which can be extremely difficult when years of meds & countless head first body flailing concrete dives followed by 2-3-5 min of not breathing has taken a serious toll on memory & a fear of doctors issue).

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