In 2010, Cynthia Mora became pregnant with her third child after moving with her family to Lancaster, California. She found herself in need of a new OB-GYN and began the search process as most of us do — with Google. She landed on Dr. Leonard Kurian, and, after researching Kurian further through online reviews, decided to pursue his care.
Online review sites such as Yelp can be helpful in making decisions as a consumer, but — as Consumer Reports recently revealed — using these sites to find a doctor is a whole different story: In fact, it can be misleading, dangerous, and even life-threatening.
What Online Reviews Leave out
Ismael Aguirre, Mora’s husband, is certain that his wife did not know that, in 2006, Dr. Kurian was reprimanded by the state medical board for “negligent” and “incompetent” care and “dishonest behavior” — in part for contributing to the death of two patients, both of them young mothers who had recently given birth to healthy babies.
Certainly, if Mora had known, she would have chosen another doctor. The problem here is that her lack of knowledge on the matter was not at all related to her online research skills. Medical boards and the medical probation system make punishments difficult for the public to track, access, and understand — and, worse, they overwhelmingly protect doctors’ careers over the health and safety of their patients.
Mora must have thought she would be in good hands because, on Yelp, Dr. Kurian had a favorable review — 4 out of 5 stars. Patients commented that “Dr. Kurian has great bedside manner, always makes you feel comfortable and takes his time to go over everything and answers any questions you have. Once you are in the room, he is all yours and the focus is on you.”
The Tragic Consequences of No Information
For Cynthia Mora, however, Dr. Kurian was not thorough or attentive. In fact, his negligence is what lead to her unnecessary and untimely death. Mora’s story is an infuriating and devastating one. The idea that an expectant mother diligently searching online for the best medical care could find herself in such a situation is not only tragic – it’s a crime.
The chain of events went like this: when Mora came into the office complaining of excruciating pain in her side, Dr. Kurian did not run the proper tests. When the pain did not lessen after giving birth to her daughter, Dr. Kurian did not re-evaluate her condition.
The medical board investigation conducted after Mora’s death found that Dr. Kurian did not “adequately evaluate” Mora’s status before discharging her. Because of this, she died of a ruptured appendix — something that is almost entirely preventable by surgical intervention.
In fact, according to the Consumer Reports investigation, Dr. Kurian himself admitted that “he never read the nurses’ notes documenting [Mora’s] 3-day history of pain and change in vital signs” and that “doing so would not be part of his custom and practice.”
The problem here certainly lies with the individual practitioner, Dr. Kurian. But, in the larger sense, the problem also lies with the medical boards — both in how they review and reprimand negligent behavior, and in how their information is made available to the public so that patients can make informed decisions.
Just How Corrupt Are State Medical Boards?
Robert E. Oshel, former official at the National Practitioner Data Bank, is convinced that medical boards often protect their own. “They’re run mostly by doctors,” he points out, “and they are often reluctant to take actions against physicians unless they get a lot of pressure, or if something comes out in the press.”
The complicated rules that medical boards follow
“…can effectively keep information out of the hands of the public, such as listing a doctor’s malpractice cases only if they hit a certain monetary threshold or a doctor has several cases over a period of time.”
This fact is crucial. Because of this, McGiffert points out, “a physician may have a long history of malpractice, but it never shows up in his or her public record.”
How Does Your State Rank?
To make matters even more frustrating — no two states are the same. Each state has their own medical board with varying strengths and weaknesses. Depending on where you live, you may face increased risk of falling victim to a bad doctor based on the track record of your designated medical board. Listed below are the 10 best medical boards and the 10 worst, as according to the complete Consumer Reports Findings.
- New York
- North Carolina
- New Jersey
- Florida Osteopathic
It’s surprising that California is ranked as the “best” state — since this is where Mora unnecessarily died at the hands of a doctor with a known track record of negligence. This reflects how widespread and severe the problem is. For instance, in California’s 2014-15 fiscal year, 8,267 official complaints were brought against state doctors — but only 86 doctors were reprimanded and only 45 doctors had their licenses revoked by the board.
Additionally, many of the above state medical boards rank as “poor” — the lowest rating — in certain categories. For instance, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, and Florida all rank as poor in the area of “federal disciplinary actions.” Texas ranks as poor in the area of “hospital disciplinary actions.” It seems that even the “best” boards have a lot of weak points.
- New Mexico Osteopathic
- Washington Osteopathic
- Vermont Osteopathic
- Oklahoma Osteopathic
Many of these states have corrupt and inadequate medical practices. Mississippi, which comes in last, ranks as “poor” in all areas except one — “complaint and board information,” which ranks slightly better as “fair.” 100 Reporters recently revealed the dire condition in the state’s VA hospitals, finding evidence of “an untold number of missed diagnoses” that resulted in unnecessary deaths.
“More than six years after top VA officials were first warned [about] misread radiological exams at the Jackson VA hospital, the agency has yet to identify the full scope of the problem. The VA has contacted almost of none of the potential victims. And a state medical board looking into the matter says the VA has ‘not been responsive’ to its questions.”
Additional problems at this particular hospital include “nurses illegally writing prescriptions for painkillers while staff failed to sterilize scalpels and bone cutters between uses.” The fact that the state medical board is unable to address these issues and prevent future ones is outrageous.
In these 10 states, there are certainly other accounts of negligence that are going unchecked. Most of these states rank as “poor,” or “fair” which is only one step above poor, in nearly every category considered. When it comes to state medical boards, it seems inadequacy and corruption are rampant.
What’s a Patient to Do?
The idea of a “bad doctor” seems contradictory. Shouldn’t all doctors — by their very nature and chosen career path — care about their patients’ health? Obviously, state and federal reform is needed in order to address this issue in a consistent and meaningful way.
For now, when searching for a new doctor (or when researching your current doctor) stick to sites such as DocInfo and Informed Patient Institute. To see if doctor ratings are available in your state, visit Consumer Reports. Next time you are at your doctor’s office, pay attention to the level of care you are receiving and don’t hesitate to ask for more, or to go elsewhere. There are a lot of great doctors out there who routinely go the extra mile — and everyone deserves to be in the care of doctors like these.