Depending on which way you want to look at it, the fact that Delaware ranks at the very top of a new study from the University of Michigan ranking disciplinary actions taken against doctors could be a good or bad thing. On the one hand, the fact that there are so many being disciplined indicates there’s a problem. On the other, you could argue Delaware state doctors are held more accountable and/or the process here is more fair and transparent for the patient.
According to ConsumerReports.org, Delaware averages 7.9 disciplinary actions per 1,000 practicing physicians every year. That’s almost four times the rate of the lowest state of Massachusetts at 2.1 per 1,000. The average score when looking at all states across the country was 3.8 disciplinary actions per 1,000 physicians.
“I don’t think it’s intentional, but there are states where you get off easier, and there are states where you get firmly dealt with,” says study co-author John A. Harris, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at the University of Michigan Medical School.
The Michigan study was done in partnership with one done by Consumer Reports, which evaluated the level of difficulty in navigating state medical board sites for information on their doctors’ histories of things like sexual misconduct, substance abuse, and negligent care/medical malpractice. Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The theory among most experts is that like anything else, the standards, regulations, procedures, and funding that goes into these investigations and disciplinary actions vary significantly from state to state. That is to say, it’s probably not that Delaware doctors are that much more prone to mistakes or misconduct, but rather the standards and enforcement of them are routinely higher than in other states.
“Consistency is certainly a worthy goal,” said Lisa Robin, chief advocacy officer for the Federation of State Medical Boards, which represents all the boards across the country. “Looking at the disciplinary trends to make improvements in the system… we would always encourage that.”