Oversight Board Survey Says Physician Misconduct Remains Widespread, Underreported

By John Commins

Physician misconduct is underreported, perhaps because most people don’t know how or where to file a complaint, according to a new survey commissioned by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

The Harris Poll online survey of 2,018 people found that nearly 1 in 5 of respondents (18%) have experienced what they said was an unethical or unprofessional interaction with a physician. However, only one-third of those who had a negative interaction filed a complaint, and only one-third of those filed a complaint with a state medical board, which oversees physician licensure and discipline.

“The results of The Harris Poll survey show that physician misconduct is being underreported, and a majority of Americans do not know where to file a complaint against a physician,” FSMB President and CEO Humayun Chaudhry, DO, said in a media release.

“This is an opportunity to further educate consumers about the valuable role state medical boards play in these cases and ensure that if and when a patient is mistreated or harmed by a physician, they know to report that incident to their medical board,” Chaudhry said.

Among the findings:

  • Eighteen percent of respondents said they had been treated by a physician who they believe was acting unethically, unprofessionally, or providing substandard care.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to have experienced physician misconduct (24% vs. 12%).
  • Of those who have experienced physician misconduct, only one third (33%) filed a complaint.
  • Men (41%) are more likely to report misconduct than women (30%),
  • Only one third (34%) of those who filed a complaint notified the state medical board.
  • Only 27% of respondents said they know how to find out if a physician has received a disciplinary action.
  • More than half of the respondents (51&) don’t know that state medical boards are responsible for the licensing and regulating of physicians.

FSMB has mounted a public awareness campaign that relies on the search tool DocInfo.org, which explains how and where to file complaints, along with background history, including disciplinary action, on every licensed physician in the United States.

“The FSMB believes it is essential to create a safe environment for reporting, so patients feel comfortable coming forward to boards, while also empowering every member of a health care team to exercise their duty to report misconduct as well,” Chaudhry said.