Doctor Discipline Rate Drops, Complaints Rise

As complaints rise against doctors in New York, the number of sanctions levied against them has dropped. The Office of Professional Medical Conduct says it sanctioned 292 doctors in 2009, a 25 percent drop from the number sanctioned just four years earlier. Yet the number of complaints rose to 9,000 the same year, an 18 percent increase from 2005.

This surprising trend in sanctions - a 15-year low - comes a year after the New York government initiated stricter oversight of problem physicians among the 64,000 doctors who practice in the state. Those new measures included reviewing malpractice payments and publicly identifying physicians formally charged with misconduct.

According to a recent study by several consumer groups, the actual value of payments made on malpractice claims has remained stable, when adjusted for inflation, with $736 million paid for 1,806 claims in 2009. But while the payouts have remained the same, the cost of malpractice insurance has increased.

Less than eight percent of doctors are responsible for more than half the payoffs made for malpractice claims. Doctors in New York who have paid more than three malpractice claims account for a larger percentage of malpractice payments.

The same study found that 60 percent of the disciplinary actions taken by the OPMC were initiated by sanctions approved in other states or in local and federal courts; few investigations were initiated by the OPMC itself. And with the number of physicians in New York rising each year (the state now has the third highest per capita number of doctors in the nation), critics say sanctions and disciplinary action should rise, not drop.

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