Consumers Reports News Release:
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Contact: Michael McCauley, email@example.com, 415-431-6747, ext 7606 (office) or 415-902-537 (cell)
Consumer Reports: Mississippi Rated Worst In Nation
For Failing to Keep Patients Informed About Bad Doctors
State Medical Boards Urged to Improve Public Access to Disciplinary
Records And Require Physicians on Probation to Tell Patients
YONKERS, NY — A Consumer Reports review of medical board websites found that Mississippi earned the lowest rating among all 50 states and the District of Columbia for failing to provide easy access to the disciplinary records of doctors licensed to practice in the state. As a result, Mississippians face a challenging time finding out whether their doctor has been put on probation for misconduct, made malpractice payouts, or been convicted of crimes.
“Patients have a right to know whether their doctor has been disciplined for bad behavior, especially when it could endanger their health,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project. “But Mississippi makes it very hard to find out if a doctor practicing in the state has a history of harming patients or putting them at risk.”
The review of medical board websites is featured in “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You,” the cover story of the latest issue of Consumer Reports. The article highlights some of the challenges patients face when checking up on doctors and includes tips for helping consumers find a good physician and what to do if they have been harmed during treatment.
Medical boards are state government agencies responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors and investigating complaints about them. While most doctors have clean records, thousands of doctors around the country have been put on probation by state medical boards for a variety of offenses, including sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse, overprescribing controlled substances, and other unprofessional or dangerous practices. Most of these doctors are allowed to continue seeing patients.
In addition, doctors can be disciplined by the hospitals where they work for misconduct or by federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies for such offenses as Medicare fraud, abusing prescription drugs, or drug related crimes. Doctors who harm patients also can be the subject of malpractice lawsuits.
Consumer Reports and the Informed Patient Institute, a nonprofit group that provides consumers with information about healthcare quality and cost, analyzed medical board websites to see whether they provided easy access to complete information about doctors, rating them on a scale of 1 to 100. The Mississippi Medical Licensure Board’s website received a score of 6, the lowest in the country.
- Mississippi received poor marks for failing to provide an online profile of each doctor licensed in the state where patients can learn about a doctor’s disciplinary history.
- Instead of having a simple “Doctor Search” function on the home page, users must first click on a cryptically named “Verification Information” tab to access a separate “Locate a Physician” tab, which then takes users to the Physician Search page. Once users reach this page, they’ll find very little information about each doctor. The Physician Search page merely lists the names and addresses of doctors in the state and indicates whether or not they have been the subject of a public order or disciplinary action by the medical board without providing any additional details. To find out more, users have to fill out a form, submit a $25 “verification fee” payment, and wait for the public order to be mailed to them.
- While Mississippi’s medical board website provides a description of its complaint process, it doesn’t enable patients to submit complaints online or feature a “Frequently Asked Questions” page to help users understand what kind of information is available on the website and how to access it.
- Mississippi received a very low score since many of the criteria used by Consumer Reports to review the medical board’s website were tied to whether it provided online access to a full picture of each licensed doctor’s history, including information about disciplinary actions against the doctor taken by hospitals and the federal government, malpractice payouts, and whether the doctor has been convicted of any crimes.
To help consumers find out more easily whether their doctor has a history of misconduct, Consumer Reports has urged medical boards to take a number of steps to improve their websites, including:
- Use easily understandable search terms on medical board website home pages and eye catching graphics to help consumers quickly find doctor-specific information.
- Include a plain language summary of any disciplinary actions taken by the medical board on a physician’s profile that includes the date, reason, duration, and restrictions tied to the order, as well as links to documents with more detailed information.
- Provide more comprehensive information on all physicians, including information about malpractice lawsuits, disciplinary actions taken by hospitals and federal agencies, and criminal convictions.
- Allow the public to file complaints online and provide clear information about how complaints are handled, including expected time frames and when and how the complainant will be notified of the outcome.
While these website improvements will make it easier for consumers to check up on their doctors, Consumer Reports has urged medical boards to require doctors on probation to inform their patients. “The onus shouldn’t be on patients to investigate their physicians,” said McGiffert. “Doctors on probation should be required to tell their patients of their status and explain the reasons behind it.” A Consumer Reports survey found that 82 percent of consumers are in favor of requiring doctors to tell their patients if they are on probation and why.
At the national level, Consumer Reports has advocated for the National Practitioners Data Bank, a federal repository that includes information about disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards, hospitals, as well as malpractice payments, to be open to the public. Only hospitals, doctors, law enforcement, insurance companies, and a few other select groups are currently granted access. Medical Boards should also have free access to the Data Bank when checking on licensed doctors.
© 2016 Consumer Reports. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for advertising or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. We accept no advertising and pay for all the products we test. We are not beholden to any commercial interest. Our income is derived from the sale of Consumer Reports®, ConsumerReports.org® and our other publications and information products, services, fees, and noncommercial contributions and grants. Our Ratings and reports are intended solely for the use of our readers. Neither the Ratings nor the reports may be used in advertising or for any other commercial purpose without our permission. Consumer Reports will take all steps open to it to prevent commercial use of its materials, its name, or the name of Consumer Reports®.