Bad Medicine Too Much To Swallow?

bad doctors
Did you hear the one about the surgeon who operated on the wrong side of the patient's brain?

It's no joke.

He's just one of 20,000 doctors targeted by a consumer group looking into questionable medical practices nationwide.

CBS News Correspondent Diana Olick reports that locked in the files of the federal government is information on bad doctors. Many are still practicing, but you're not allowed to see it.

The nonprofit group said patients have a right to know if their doctors have been convicted of a crime and urged Congress to pass laws making such information publicly available.

"Patients ... are saying, 'We are smart enough to understand that,' " said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of Public Citizen's research group. "If we can understand the difference between safe cars and unsafe cars, we certainly can understand the difference between safe doctors and unsafe doctors."

For 10 years, Public Citizen has tracked questionable doctors using state medical boards. Its list now tops 20,000, with offenses like sexual misconduct, drug abuse and criminal conviction.

"Too often doctors with repeated acts of negligence aren't even put on serious probation," said Wolfe.

The 2000 edition of the book, published annually by Public Citizen, named 20,125 doctors and 28,000 actions against them.

The list includes a Tampa doctor who amputated the wrong foot from Willie King.

"It was a shock, I mean a real shock," said King.

More shocking is that the doctor continued practicing and was reprimanded again and again.

The "questionable doctors" on Public Citizen's list represent a litany of medical mistakes:

  • A Texas doctor who had sex with 16 patients.
  • A New York doctor who was convicted of assault with intent to kill his wife.
  • A North Carolina physician who used HIV-positive semen for artificial insemination ... twice.
  • A South Carolina doctor who put an amputated human foot into a crab trap.
  • A Florida doctor who cut open the wrong side of a patient's head.

All received only reprimands or probation.

The National Practitioner Data Bank carries information on medical malpractice lawsuits and disciplinary action for use by state medical boards, health maintenance organizations and other groups.

The American Medical Association believes you shouldn't know all this, and every time Congress tries to make the files public, the doctors block it.

"The National Practitioner Data Bank is just raw data. It wasn't developed in a format to use in public use. In other words, its raw data which could be very misleading to patients," said former AMA president Thomas Reardon. "The databank has just the number of suits. It doesn't have any explanatory information."

"We support patients having good reliable valid information," he said. "We think there is a better way and that is for states at the state level, state medical licensing boards ... to develoWeb sites for patients to have access to."

The AMA, which represents about 300,000 of the nation's 700,000 doctors, opposes opening the database.

"It is inexcusable for the AMA to take the patronizing position that patients won't really understand this information," Wolfe said.

Several states are putting local doctor files online and in March the U.S. House of Representatives Commerce Committee, headed by Virginia Republican Rep. Thomas Bliley, held hearings on the issue.

A spokesman for Bliley said the congressman plans to introduce legislation in early September that will "provide the information in context."

"It is unconscionable that as consumers we have more comparative information about the used car we purchase or the snack foods we eat than the doctors in whose care we entrust our health and well-being," the spokesman said.

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