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Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)
Mar 21, 2003
by Nicholas Rummell, Staff writer
Patients to be able to check doctors on Web;
Washington, Idaho putting malpractice records onlineWASHINGTON: Patients in Washington and Idaho will soon be able to click a computer button to check whether their doctors have records of negligence, malpractice or criminal conviction.
Both states will soon unveil online databases that will include civil judgments from malpractice cases and disciplinary actions against doctors. But much information, such as any punishment handed out by state medical boards or out-of-court settlements, will remain secret.
The online databases come on the heels of medical liability reform, which has sparked a battle between doctors and lawyers, insurance firms and patients. Within the clamor for tort reform has grown a cry for public reporting of medical errors.
Physician reports have been available upon request to the public in both states, but only within the past two years has a move been made to put data online, where it is readily accessible.
''Discipline on doctors in Idaho has always been public record," said Idaho state medical board director Nancy Kerr. ''Now we're just going to make it within a click of the computer."
Officials from Idaho and Washington said that the process of peer review, when physicians and physician associations investigate themselves, will remain closed to the public.
That angers patient advocates who insist doctors cannot be expected to police themselves.
''There is still this chummy club of doctors who do not report on other bad doctors," said Jamie Court, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. ''We know less about our doctors than we do our auto mechanics."
Doctors also can cross state lines to evade public notice, some say. Public Citizen, an advocacy group, found that some doctors in Idaho had been reprimanded in other states. No data have been compiled for Washington.
''There are expectations that we live in a fail-safe society," said John Arveson, who oversees peer review for the Washington State Medical Association. The better ''peer review is in the preventative steps taken."
Washington plans to unveil its health-care provider database in April, and Idaho should have an online version of its physician database by the end of this week. More than 25 states now have online databases with physician information.
A bill in Congress could approve a national database and additional technology funding to track medical errors. However, as the bill stands, such data would be voluntarily submitted by physicians, would remain unavailable to the public, and could not be used by lawyers in malpractice suits.
The bill is attached to federal attempts to cap malpractice claims at $250,000. The Washington Senate passed a similar cap for $350,000, which will now go to the House floor.
Some patients say they believe that better peer review would help deter repeat offenders of medical malpractice who are driving up insurance premiums for all doctors.
Dylan Malone of Everett said his son Ian suffered severe brain damage at birth after a doctor used the wrong drug to induce labor. Roger Anderson, who delivered the baby at Cascade Birth Center, later falsified Ian's vital signs to conceal the error, Malone said.
''Our malpractice is not just, 'Oops, we just made a mistake,"' Malone said. ''There was a definite coverup."
After a two-year investigation by the state health department, Cascade was fined $3,000 and its staff was required to take CPR courses. Anderson filed bankruptcy and abandoned his practice, a loophole that allowed him to evade prosecution, Malone said. Anderson is still under investigation.
"We (Washington state) need better peer review so that there aren't loopholes for the bad doctors to slip through," Malone said.
This sidebar appeared with the story:
ON THE WEB: Doctor databases - For online information about physicians, go to www.ida.org for Idaho and http://access.wa.gov/for Washington.
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