People waiting to read the Federation of State Medical Boards' annual report summarizing national statistics for doctor discipline are waiting in vain. The FSMB has quietly killed its Annual Summary of Board Actions report. The Federation, which has published the report since 1985, promises that a new and improved report—which will not necessarily include statistics on each state medical board's disciplinary actions—should be out in the fall.
The change will make it harder for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen to publish its widely followed annual report ranking state medical boards by their number of disciplinary actions against physicians. Its rankings, first published in 1999, have been based on the FSMB report. Public Citizen contends that the federation deep-sixed its report to stop Public Citizen from putting out the rankings that state medical boards and physician groups hated. But Public Citizen has vowed to continue ranking state boards even if the FSMB no longer supplies it with the readily available raw material to do so.
“We'll figure out a way to keep doing the rankings,” says Dr. Sidney Wolfe, founder and a senior adviser of Public Citizen's health research group. “We're not throwing in the towel because that's not our style.”
Underlying the back and forth over the federation's report are longstanding disagreements over how to measure state medical boards' effectiveness in policing doctors and how best to ensure that doctors are practicing and behaving well.
The FSMB represents the 70 licensing boards of the 50 states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories (15 states have separate osteopathic boards). The FSMB has compiled disciplinary actions taken against physicians the previous year by its member organizations. The annual summary has listed the number of physician licenses revoked, suspended, modified and ordered to be surrendered or retired by each medical board.
Lisa Robin, the FSMB's chief advocacy officer, says the federation is revising the format of the report. While the annual summary released in 2012 was the last of its kind, it won't be the last report the FSMB ever publishes compiling individual board activity. “It's not that there's not going to be any data reported in the future, it's just that it's going to be different,” she says.
Traditionally, the federation's annual reports are released in the spring. They have begun with the same qualifying statement: “Because states operate with different financial resources, levels of autonomy, legal constraints and staffing levels, the FSMB discourages using data from this report to compare or rank states.”