Doctor information lacking from med board and critics

It's a survey that has become predictable. Every year, the consumer group Public Citizen ranks the nation's medical boards. And every year, Minnesota comes out near the bottom.

It's a survey that has become predictable. Every year, the consumer group Public Citizen ranks the nation's medical boards. And every year, Minnesota comes out near the bottom.

Does that mean watch out when you visit a Minnesota doctor? No; the Gopher State is home to some of the most talented physicians anywhere, with patients flocking to the Mayo Clinic from around the world.

But the ranking does serve as a reminder to double-check the information about the person to whom you are entrusting your life.

In its 2007 ranking, Public Citizen last week placed Minnesota second to last, behind South Carolina. The tabulation lists the number of serious actions taken by a board against a physician (such as license revocations or suspensions; 15 in Minnesota), the number of physicians (17,186 statewide) and the number of board actions per 1,000 doctors (1.18). By contrast, the best state, Alaska, had 19 actions against 1,832 physicians, or 8.33 per 1,000 doctors.

Public Citizen's logic is that a higher ratio reflects a medical board more vigilant about public safety and willing to take steps against doctors who make gross errors or engage in wrongdoing. But the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice maintains the raw figures don't necessarily translate into good docs and bad. Maybe Alaska's ratio is 15 times that of Minnesota because more rogue practitioners found their way to the Last Frontier. Further, as Minnesota's board is fond of asking with the yearly survey results, would you rather go to a doctor in Alaska (or second-place Kentucky) or Minnesota?


"The quality of medical care in Minnesota so far exceeds the quality of care in other states you can't make a comparison," Ruth Martinez of the Board of Medical Practice told the News Tribune's editorial page staff Friday.

A fact supporting her contention is that Minnesota has a far lower incidence of malpractice than most states -- only about 130 cases per year, speaking to either good doctoring or a reluctance to sue in the land of Minnesota Nice. Anyone suggesting that medical malpractice claims are the cause of high health care costs isn't talking about Minnesota.

Yet the Public Citizen survey is useful, if only in highlighting the need for readily accessible doctor information, an area in which the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice is lacking. A search on its Web "professional profile" for Duluth's Dr. Javier E. De La Garza, currently facing criminal charges including sexual abuse of patients, lists him as "active" with no disciplinary or corrective actions. Yet Dr. Cory Rossow of southwestern Minnesota, who is facing charges of second-degree criminal sexual assault involving a juvenile male, is tagged as "suspended." Neither man has been proven guilty in a court of law. The difference between their listings is that De La Garza has agreed to a stipulation with the board that he won't practice. Rossow did not voluntarily agree to cease practice and was suspended.

De La Garza's stipulation is not available to the public unless requested. But with no public notification that any such agreement exists, how would patients know to ask?

"We'd never get anyone to sign a stipulation to cease practicing if they knew it was going to be put out there publicly," Martinez said.

True, perhaps, but that makes the board's posted information worthless. In that regard, maybe Public Citizen's rankings are useful: not for disclosing what information state medical boards release, but for what they don't.

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