State medical boards issued 3,813 sanctions against physicians in 1995, a 6.7% increase over 1994, the Federation of State Medical Boards said last week.
License revocations, restrictions and other reprimands affected 3,375 doctors in 1995, a 7.4% increase over 1994, the federation said.
In releasing the annual report on disciplinary actions, officials of the federation, which represents licensing and disciplinary boards of all 50 states, said 1995 was the fifth straight year punitive actions against physicians have increased.
"This says the system is working," said James Winn, M.D., executive vice president of the federation. "There is not an increase in the number of bad doctors. I think medical boards are doing a better job."
Arizona was the most active state in punishing physicians, issuing 17.6 punitive actions for every 1,000 licensed doctors practicing in the state. The District of Columbia was the least active, issuing less than one punitive decision for every 1,000 licensed doctors practicing in the district's boundaries.
The consumer watchdog group Public Citizen objected to the report, saying the definition of punitive actions in the report is too wide because it groups fines and other minor reprimands with major actions such as license revocations. The federation's standard for punitive actions is a "prejudicial" decision by a disciplinary panel.
Public Citizen said the federation's data show that state medical regulatory boards aren't doing enough to protect patients.
The group said it's "not unreasonable" to estimate that 1% of all doctors deserve some serious disciplinary action each year, which would mean that medical disciplinary boards would have to issue more than 6,000 punitive actions each year.
In late March, Public Citizen released its own report on "questionable" doctors who have been punished by state licensing boards or federal agencies (April 1, p. 16). Its report found that only about one-quarter of disciplinary actions against physicians result in suspension, revocation or other actions to remove licenses.