A consumer watchdog group has named Minnesota the "worst state" in the country for disciplining bad doctors.
Public Citizen's Health Research Group found that Minnesota disciplined fewer than 1 in 1,000 practicing physicians in 2008, the lowest rate in the nation, according to a report released Monday.
This was the sixth year in a row that Public Citizen, based in Washington D.C. , has ranked Minnesota at or near the bottom of the list.
Also for the sixth year in a row, Minnesota officials shrugged off the criticism as misguided.
"It's completely meaningless without putting it into context," said Ruth Martinez, head of the complaint review unit of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. She didn't dispute the numbers, but said Minnesota puts a greater emphasis than other states on helping doctors correct problems, through treatment and educational programs, rather than punishing them.
In the latest report, Wisconsin, too, ranked near the bottom, at No. 49, with 1.6 disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors.
The best state, in Public Citizen's view: Alaska, with 6.5 disciplinary actions per 1,000.
Dr. Rebecca Hafner-Fogarty, president of the Minnesota Medical Board, rejected the rankings as absurd. "So where would you rather get your medical care," she asked -- Alaska or Minnesota?
She said most Minnesota doctors work in large group practices where they're under constant scrutiny, and many problems are caught early. "There's no hesitation on the part of current board members, or past board members that I've worked with, in disciplining physicians."
But Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said Minnesota legislators should pressure the board to crack down on dangerous doctors. "In some cases, they need to be taken out of practice," he said.
He would not say that the practice affects overall quality of patient care, because only a tiny fraction of doctors are disciplined in even the most aggressive states. The Minnesota board, which licenses almost 19,000 doctors and 4,000 other health professionals, suspended or removed 10 individuals from practice, and reprimanded 31 in 2008, according to its biannual report.
The Public Citizen rankings can be found at www.citizen.org.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384