Report Ranks Nevada Low in Doctor Discipline

Nevada ranks near the bottom of states when it comes to taking serious disciplinary action against doctors, according to a new report.

The report by Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, ranks Nevada 47th for its rate of serious actions taken in the past three years. That's a drop from 2001 through 2003, when Nevada ranked 33rd.

Serious disciplinary actions are taken by medical boards against physicians involved in criminal offenses, malpractice and other negative outcomes that result from their care. The number of disciplinary actions issued by a board can be used as a barometer on how medical oversight boards adequately protect patients' safety by aggressively pursuing physicians who practice substandard care.

Nevada's rate of serious disciplines in the latest report was 1.68 per 1,000 doctors. The national average is 3.18 per 1,000, the report said.

Tony Clark, Executive Secretary of the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners, said the report raises valid issues but doesn't give an accurate picture.

For one, Nevada has stricter licensing requirements, requiring doctors to have three years of postgraduate progressive education while most states require one or two years, Clark said. Because doctors that come here are more experienced, it helps reduce the number of problem doctors, Clark said.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group, was skeptical.

"I doubt whether Nevada is the only state that has those requirements," Wolfe said. "Nevada's getting worse. If that's a factor, are they really saying that it has had such an impact in the quality of doctors in just three years? I doubt that."

Clark said the report also doesn't take into account minor disciplinary measures, and assistance and monitoring programs that help doctors overcome potential problems before they become serious.

Wolfe, however, said every state has such programs.

"It's not a matter of either-or," he said. "The best state boards do both types of actions."

Clark said expects Nevada to have a much better rank next year.

Since the report uses an average from the past three years, Nevada's numbers still are being weighed down by a particularly bad year in 2004 when it went through a transition period with staff, Clark said.

The staffing issues, including the search for a new executive secretary, led to the board only having seven major disciplinary actions in 2004. Since then, the board has hired another lawyer and two more investigators. The board also more than doubled its major discipline rate to about 20 per year in 2005 and 2006, Clark said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)