The number of actions taken by state medical boards against physicians remained virtually unchanged from 1995 to 1996, according to data released last week by the Federation of State Medical Boards.
Last year, state medical boards took 4,432 disciplinary actions against 3,880 physicians, the group said. A year earlier, state boards took 4,397 actions against 3,923 physicians.
Disciplinary actions can range from revoking a physician's medical license to less-severe reprimands.
For the second straight year, Arizona was the most active state, issuing nearly 21 punitive actions for every 1,000 licensed physicians practicing in the state. Last year, Arizona issued about 18 citations per 1,000 licensed physicians.
North Dakota was second in 1996 with nearly 11 actions per 1,000 licensed doctors.
The New Hampshire state medical board took only 2.3 serious actions per 1,000 licensed doctors, the lowest in the country.
According to Dale Austin, deputy executive vice president of the federation, the leveling off of sanctions in 1996 after several years of steady growth may be a function of the limited resources of state medical boards.
Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer watchdog group, criticized the report, which it said underrepresents the number of doctors who deserve serious disciplinary action.
Public Citizen said it estimates that 1% of all physicians should be receiving serious disciplinary actions each year, which would amount to about 6,800 annual actions.
But Austin said he doesn't believe state medical boards are catching only a small percentage of the doctors who should be sanctioned.
"Are medical boards getting every bad physician out there? No," Austin said. "But they are getting the vast majority of them."