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Virginia Fails At Policing Its Doctors

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Virginia continues to have a lower rate of serious disciplinary actions against its doctors than most states. According to the non-profit research group, Public Citizen, the rate of serious disciplinary actions against doctors in Virginia has fallen consistently over the last four years.

The organization ranked Virginia 34th in the nation for 2005, down from 33rd in 2004, 27th in 2003, and 21st in 2001.

“These data again raise serious questions about the extent to which patients in many states with poor records of serious doctor discipline are being protected from physicians who might be barred from practice in other states with boards that are doing a better job of disciplining physicians,” Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s health research group, wrote in a news release on April 27, 2006.

The ranking is based on a three-year average rate of disciplinary actions–such as license revocations or putting doctors on probation—-per 1,000 doctors in each state.

Not surprisingly, Dr. William L. Harp, executor director of the Virginia Board of Medicine, had some handy excuses for the Virginia Board of Medicine’s poor track record in disciplining physicians. He pointed out that although the number of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians was declining, the actual number of disciplinary actions taken against physicians in Virginia had increased over the last several years. He also blamed the discrepancy between Virginia’s level of efficiency in disciplining doctors and those in other states on the higher burden of proof required in Virginia as compared to some other states. Virginia requires proof of “clear and convincing” evidence that a physician needs to be disciplined while many states simply require proof by a “preponderance of evidence”.

Nationwide, there were 3,255 serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards in 2005. Virginia had 64 while North Carolina had 105.

Kentucky topped the list with a three-year average of 9.08 serious actions per 1,000 doctors while the lowest ranked state, Mississippi, had an average of 1.62 serious actions per 1,000 doctors.