Opinion

State needs to discipline bad doctors

Washington is ranked as one of the worst states for protecting patients from negligent doctors, a report from the Washington, D.C.-based consumer group Public Citizen reported this week.

Washington was ranked 37 out of 51 states in the nation, with 51 being the lowest ranking for disciplining bad doctors. Public Citizen based its ranking of state medical boards on data it obtained from the Federation of State Medical Boards on the number of disciplinary actions taken in 2001 against doctors.

The group calculated the rate of serious disciplinary actions (revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probation/restrictions) per 1,000 doctors in each state and compiled a national report ranking state board by the rate of serious disciplinary actions. Arizona was ranked as the best state in the nation for disciplining negligent doctors, performing 124 disciplinary actions in 2001.

Washington’s board took 35 disciplinary actions against doctors in 2001 out of a total doctor population of 16,154. Washington’s ranking has declined from 17 in 1992 to 40th in 2000.

Nationally, there were 2,708 serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards in 2001, down slightly from the 2,746 serious actions taken in 2000, Public Citizen said.

The report is troubling considering that Washington doctors are supporting legislation in Congress (HR 4600) that would strip injured patients of their legal rights to hold negligent doctors accountable in a court of law. The bill would restrict a jury’s ability to award injury damages by capping them at $250,000. Injury damages compensate patients and families for damages like the loss of a child, a spouse, a limb, fertility and quality of life.

Insurance companies are gouging doctors nationwide on their medical malpractice premiums to make up for bungled corporate investments of the 1990s. Insurance companies do not give doctors with safe track records a break on their insurance rates.

Punishing injured patients will not improve patient safety and it will not help the majority of doctors who do an outstanding job. It’s time that doctors speak out against the insurance industry that is bilking them unfairly.

Although more than 98,000 Americans suffer from medical errors each year, only a handful of those medical mistakes result in lawsuits.

Here in the state of Washington lawsuits against doctors have actually declined and averaged about 487 lawsuits annually in the past four years.

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