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San Jose Mercury News (California)
Mar 06, 2004
by Barbara Feder; Mercury News
Critics fear patient blacklist;
DOCTORS CAN TRACK LAWSUITS AT SITEA new Web site aims to help physicians track people who have filed medical malpractice lawsuits -- and consumer groups fear doctors could use the site to "blacklist" patients.
Started by a Texas radiologist, DoctorsKnow.us bills itself as a ''powerful deterrent'' to those who would sue their doctors or hospitals by providing physicians with a searchable database of patients, malpractice attorneys and expert witnesses. The site mines court records and allows physicians to post the names of patients who have sued them.
''They can sue, but they can't hide,'' the Web site proclaims. ''Malpractice plaintiffs must now permanently bear the burden of their public claims.''
DoctorsKnow.us is the latest salvo in the rancorous national debate over medical malpractice reform. California has restricted the financial damages that juries can award patients in malpractice cases, and other states and the federal government are considering various malpractice reforms.
With skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates forcing some doctors out of medicine, a Web site that could help them avoid litigious patients might sound appealing. It's the flip side of numerous Web sites sponsored by state medical boards and consumer groups that help patients check on whether a doctor has been sued for malpractice or been sanctioned for negligent care.
Fears of a blacklist
But it is unclear whether any doctors have refused to see a particular patient after using the site. Still, two consumer groups have called on the American Medical Association to denounce the Web site, calling it a modern-day blacklist.
"What's to prevent doctors from using the database to deny patients medical care?", asked Doug Heller of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, which along with a similar group, Texas Watch, condemned the site Friday.
''This is morally reprehensible,'' Heller said. ''To discriminate against people who have been victimized in the past is so contradictory of the basic premise of medicine.''
The California Medical Association and the American Medical Association distanced themselves from the site Friday.
Still, Dr. William G. Plested, a Santa Monica cardiac surgeon and chairman of the AMA's board of trustees, said its existence wasn't surprising.
''The level of frustration of doctors against this terrible system is so high, to see something like this happening doesn't seem outrageous to me at all,'' Plested said. ''Doctors are trying to do anything to protect themselves.''
''I've certainly taken care of patients who have sued other physicians. If it seems like something reasonable, I've never hesitated,'' Plested added. ''But if I find out somebody has filed numerous claims against numerous physicians, I might say, 'I just can't take care of you.' I should be able to do that, and the patient should be thankful, not irate. We have a relationship between doctor and patient that's got to be based on trust.''
Plested acknowledged that doctors are ethically required to care for patients in emergencies. He did not know if the AMA would take an official position on DoctorsKnow.us, but said, ''We don't want to get into the businesses of policing Web sites.''
One Southern California patient grew alarmed when she heard of her inclusion in the Web site's database.
''I don't like to file lawsuits, and I don't want to be blacklisted,'' said Lisa Gomez, 53, of Moreno Valley.
Gomez said she lost a 1999 lawsuit against her orthopedic surgeon, whom she accused of failing to properly treat her left wrist, shattered in an accident. Because of her injury, she can not work as a supermarket checker. She receives disability payments and takes pain medication daily, she said.
''I lost my entire life over that,'' Gomez said of the lawsuit, which cost her nearly $3,000. But she said she has not had any problem finding a doctor to treat her.
Texas Secretary of State records show that Doctors Know.us registered as a Texas company in January 2003. Phone calls to a founder, Dr. John Shannon Jones, went unanswered Friday.
A two-week trial membership to the site costs $2.50.
Dr. Philip Brosterhous, a veteran family physician and medical director of the Sunnyvale-based Camino Medical Group, said he definitely would not use the site to scrutinize his current or potential patients.
''I think it's polarizing,'' Brosterhous said of the Web site. ''We want to take care of each patient that requests our help in the best way we can. Just because a patient has sued a physician doesn't make them a problematic patient."
Contact Barbara Feder Ostrov at firstname.lastname@example.org
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