It appears that New York State is less aggressive when it comes to punishing bad doctors. The Albany Times-Union reported that disciplinary actions have declined significantly. Since the mid-1990s, revocation and surrender actions dropped from 184 in 1996 to 96 in 2011. However, the number of less severe disciplinary actions, called “censure and reprimands,” tripled in the same period, from 34 to 99.
Some former members of the state medical board note that protecting patients is no longer the primary focus of disciplinary actions. What was once a crusade has become an opportunity to plea-bargain. One former member said that the process of disciplining bad doctors had become just a bureaucratic event.
One should not make the mistake of assuming that a decrease in severe disciplinary actions means that doctors are getting less negligent. As part of its study, the Times-Union reported that:
Complaints against doctors rose almost 40 percent.
Minor actions against doctors such as censure and reprimand rose 67 percent.
However, the number of doctors in the state has also increased, from 63,000 in 1992 to 89,000 in 2011. An increase in all types of disciplinary actions would be natural. What is disturbing is the reduction in actions such as surrendering or revoking licenses.
This trend is national in scope. Public Citizen has reported that the number of serious actions against physicians has declined by 18 percent from its peak in 2004. However, New York is still better than many other states. Of large states, only Ohio, Illinois and Florida had higher rates of serious doctor sanctions. However, when compared to all other states, New York is now 24th, down from its 10th place ranking in 2000.