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Pennsylvania Improves Disciplinary Action Measures Against Doctors

HARRISBURG, Pa., April 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortes today announced that Pennsylvania's increased emphasis on prosecuting unprofessional and incompetent behavior by doctors led to 120 more disciplinary actions taken in 2004 than in 2003.

In 2003, the State Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine levied a combined 242 disciplinary actions against physicians for violating state law and the rules and regulations of each board. Actions by both boards jumped to 362 in 2004.

"Protecting the health, safety and welfare of all Pennsylvanians has always been a top priority of the Department of State," Secretary Cortes said. "As a result, the Department and the state boards will continue to pursue physicians who practice negligently and irresponsibly."

In addition to the increased prosecution efforts, each board also used the Medical Availability and Reduction of Error Act of 2002 (Mcare Act), which requires Pennsylvania physicians to report all malpractice suits filed with their respective licensing authority. The number of board investigators and legal staff was also boosted to help process the mountain of malpractice information. This allowed the board to focus the extra resources needed to prosecute more serious disciplinary cases.

Additionally, the methods for distributing cases to the prosecution staff assigned to the physician licensing boards were modified to allow more experienced prosecutors to handle the most complex cases.

Both boards also received praise from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) for their improvement. FSMB's membership is comprised of medical boards from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and 14 state boards of osteopathic medicine.

The FSMB releases an annual physician discipline report and compiles a Composite Action Index (CAI) to help states evaluate their performance in regards to imposing disciplinary action. The CAI calculation is a weighted average of disciplinary actions taken against physicians practicing in a state, as well as all physicians licensed by that state. Actions affecting physicians' licenses, such as revocations and suspensions, are weighted more heavily in a state's CAI.

In FSMB's 2004 report, the State Board of Medicine more than doubled its 2003 CAI, while the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine's CAI jumped more than a full point. The Mcare Act led to a significant increase in the number of actions taken by the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine, hence the board's improved CAI score.

The increase in these actions was also reflected in a recent report furnished by Public Citizen, a national non-profit public interest group. Each year, Public Citizen releases its annual ranking of state medical boards, which is based upon the number of serious disciplinary actions imposed by each state per 1,000 physicians.

Last year, Public Citizen ranked Pennsylvania 45th based upon the number of actions taken in 2003. However, based upon 2004 data, Pennsylvania jumped to 36th in Public Citizen's newest report, which was released last week.

Pennsylvania's jump in the rankings would have been even greater if Public Citizen had used its prior method of comparing serious actions for one specific year. Instead, the organization based its findings on average annual actions taken over a three-year period in its 2004 report.

Although the Department was pleased with its improved ranking in Public Citizen's report, it still disagrees with the organization's methodology in compiling its findings. The main concern the Department has about the rankings is the lack of uniformity in comparing each state's statistics. For example, some states may issue disciplinary action statistics based on all physicians licensed by the state while others may only report actions taken against physicians that practice in the state.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania does not include in its official statistics the number of actions taken against physicians that are imposed through the Professional Health Monitoring Program because of a confidentiality agreement between licensees and the licensing boards, which could vastly improve the state's standing.

For more information on the State Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine and the rest of the Department of State, please visit http://www.dos.state.pa.us.

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