Alaska medical board in top 10, consumer group says

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Once again, the watchdog for Alaska physicians has been ranked in the top 10 by a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

Alaska was listed in the top 10 of best-performing state medical boards for 2002, according to a report issued Friday by Public Citizen. In fact, Alaska is the only state to remain in the advocacy group's top 10 for more than 10 straight years.

The Alaska board has one of the highest disciplinary rates for physicians, Public Citizen said. The medical board ensures physicians meet training and competence standards and deals with disciplinary actions.

In this group's ranking, the higher the disciplinary rate the better, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

''It can safely be said that in most states a tiny fraction of doctors need to be disciplined,'' Wolfe said. ''What they (the Alaska State Medical Board) have done most boards are doing less (of).''

Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader, publishes information about doctors who have been disciplined.

In 2001, there were 11 disciplinary actions against Alaska physicians. This placed Alaska third on Public Citizen's national list for 2002, with a rate of 8.57 actions per 1,000 doctors.

Leslie Gallant, executive administrator for the Alaska State Medical Board, said the Alaska board considers the rankings, but is cautious of making any conclusions.

Public Citizen made its ratings based on state statistical information. Gallant said this can be misleading.

''It's easy to make these statistics say what they want them to say,'' Gallant said. ''I can't tell you why Alaska has been in the top 10 for 10 years.''

Gallant doesn't agree with all of Public Citizen's assessments. For example, the group doesn't consider the size of the medical boards.

''It's hard to compare a small state like Alaska to a large state like California,'' Gallant said.

Wolfe said, however, that the size of a medical board doesn't really play a role in its efficiency. Most state medical boards achieve a discipline rate of about 1 percent of 1,000 physicians.

The performance rankings are usually influenced by the size of a medical board's budget, Wolfe said.

''The question is are they adequately funded and staffed,'' Wolfe said. ''Some (boards) have more funding. That's the difference.''

Other factors affecting a board's ranking include its leadership and independence, Wolfe said.

Gallant maintains that the Alaska board is mandated to protect the public regardless of national rankings.

''We don't view the ranking as a goal we need to attain or a measure of how good the medical board is doing,'' Gallant said. ''It (the state medical board) is out there to protect the public. That's the goal.''

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