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Friday, August 27, 2010

Medicine and politics

In a new chapter on closing the curtain on transparency, we learn from the Chicago Tribune earlier this week:

Doctor records taken offline
Illinois once provided the public with detailed histories of the state's doctors — including whether the physician was convicted of a crime, fired by a hospital or forced to make a medical malpractice payment within the previous five years.
Judging from online traffic, there was great hunger for that information: During the two years that they were posted, the physician profiles generated 130,000 clicks per week.
But access to the profiles came to a screeching halt in February, when the state Department of Financial and Professional Regulation removed them from its Web site and placed them under lock and key — the latest chapter in a long political battle that has pitted patients' advocates against the state's medical lobby.

Why would these records go offline?

Steven Malkin [Illinois State Medical Society president], said in a written statement that maintaining physician profiles would drain limited state resources and that patients can learn about their doctor's background from medical associations, insurers and commercial Web sites.
"Patients have every right to evaluate a physician before treatment, and we encourage patients to use the resources available to them to make informed decisions about their medical care," Malkin said.

This statement raises some obvious questions. Do medical associations really give out doctor's criminal records to prospective patients? Do they even have them? How are patients supposed to know who a doctor's insurer is? Well, I suppose they'll find out if the doctor makes a mistake on them.

And doesn't a lobbying group's concern about the state's limited resources seem a little insincere? How much of a drain is it on the state's resources?

Sponsors of a state law that capped medical malpractice awards agreed to attach the requirement as an amendment, but only with a clause that made clear that if the courts struck down the caps, the physician profiles and other amendments would be eliminated too.
That's exactly what happened in February, two years after the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation had begun posting the physician profiles online.
Up until then, the department was required to post whether a doctor had malpractice judgments or settlements, felony or Class A misdemeanor convictions, disciplinary action by the state or restriction of hospital privileges within the last five years. (It's unclear how complete these profiles were.)
But after the state Supreme Court struck down the medical malpractice caps, the department removed the profiles from its Web site and posted a notice saying it was "reviewing its options for reinstatement and apologizes for any inconvenience."

Now, patient advocates and at least one state legislator are working to get the profiles back online. Until that happens -- if it happens -- good luck on getting this information on our doctors.

Posted by Marie at August 27, 2010 9:41 PM


Yeah--good luck finding *anything* on doctors' records on the state medical society site (one of the resources the medical society guy cynically suggests). Some services offer to look into a doctor's background for a price, so I guess that's the kind of commercial service patients are being told to use. Wow.

Posted by: Dan Author Profile Page at August 28, 2010 12:57 PM

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