Thousands of doctors are being disciplined by state medical boards for serious wrongdoing, but finding out who those doctors are can be very difficult. Consumer Reports was able to obtain a list of the California doctors currently on probation. It's a powerful window into the weakness of the current system for informing patients when they have a problem doctor.
Nearly 500 doctors in California are on probation for dangerous doctoring or unprofessional behavior. Their offenses range from practicing medicine under the influence of illegal drugs to sexual misconduct with patients. Others have been charged with negligence leading to botched surgeries and wrongful deaths.
Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumer Reports' Safe Patient Project, says it's a national problem.
"Thousands of doctors in the U.S. keep practicing even though they're on medical probation for serious issues such as drug use, sexual misconduct, and gross negligence, making careless and sometimes deadly mistakes," said McGiffert.
Consumer Reports' investigation shows how hard it is to find out whether your doctor has been cited for substandard medical care or other issues.
You can check your doctor's history at the Federation of State Medical Boards' site, DocInfo.org, but if you find an "action" it can be difficult to tell what the reasons are.
You have to find and then navigate reams of hard-to-understand legal documents. User-review sites aren't much help either. Patient reviews can be misleading.
At HealthGrades.com, a gynecologist on probation for negligence, including taking out the wrong ovary, has more than three stars out of five.
"It should be easier for consumers to look up the disciplinary history of their doctors," McGiffert said.
Consumer Reports petitioned the California medical board to require that doctors inform their patients when they are on probation. The board rejected the idea, saying it would put too much of a burden on doctors and damage the doctor-patient relationship.
If you've been harmed by a doctor, Consumer Reports advises you to contact your state medical board. You can read Consumer Reports' full investigation here: http://www.ConsumerReports.org/doctordangers.
Consumer Reports: Doctors on probation