A new analysis has found that state medical boards, the government bodies responsible for disciplining doctors who commit malpractice, are punishing negligent doctors less frequently.

The analysis, which was performed by the consumer-advocacy organization Public Citizen, revealed that the boards’ rate of disciplinary actions has fallen 18 percent in the past seven years, from 3.72 “serious actions” (e.g., revocations, surrenders, suspensions and probation/restrictions) per 1,000 physicians in 2004 to 3.06 in 2011. The states that neglected their responsibilities most were South Carolina, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Wisconsin—but California is in the bottom half of this list, and has been for Public Citizen’s past six rankings.

One reason doctor discipline has become lax is that states aren’t sufficiently funding their medical boards. “There is considerable evidence that most boards are inadequately disciplining physicians,” the director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, Dr. Sidney Wolfe, said in a statement. “Action must be taken…to increase the amount of discipline, and thus, the amount of patient protection. Ensuring that medical boards are adequately funded is an important prerequisite to achieving this.”

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