Consumers are demanding to know more about the physicians who are caring for them, including adverse information such as hospital disciplinary actions or malpractice claims, and many states are considering providing the information.
Last year, Massachusetts passed legislation making it the first state to offer to the public information on physicians' education, training, board certifications, hospital affiliations and participating insurance plans, as well as disciplinary actions by hospitals, state medical boards and malpractice data. Consumers can obtain the information by mail, telephone and on the Internet. To date, the state has mailed more than 60,000 doctor profiles to consumers and a web site is recording 22,000 "hits" a day.
This year, legislation relating to physician profiles was introduced in 14 states including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont. Florida is the only state that has passed physician profile legislation, but bills were pending in New Hampshire, Tennessee and Texas at the time of publication of this article.
This spring the Board of Physician Quality Assurance in Maryland, the state medical licensing board, announced plans to offer physician profiles, including malpractice data, despite the fact that legislation did not pass the Maryland legislature this year. The Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the state medical society, opposed this implementation without approval from the legislature. The president of the medical society, Alex Azar, MD, said in an editorial that, "Malpractice claim information is misleading because it suggests negligence on the part of the doctor, when, in fact, claims against doctors prove to be meritless eight times out of 10, according to Medical Mutual, moreover, a policy of widely disseminating accusations gives great power to would-be accusers, inviting abuse."
The Maryland medical society has indicated that it does support publication of other data to assist patients in choosing a physician. As a result of legislation not passing this year, the Board of Physician Quality Assurance agreed to an interim study of physician profiling this summer. It is expected that both the issues of malpractice data and publishing information on the Internet will be discussed.
Another development outside of the legislative arena is the implementation of an Internet site known as "Doc Finder" located at http://188.8.131.52. This site is maintained by the Administrators in Medicine (AIM), the national association for directors of state licensing and disciplinary boards. This site includes links to physician profile sites in Arizona, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. Except for the site for Massachusetts where malpractice information is required to be disclosed by law, these sites do not contain data on malpractice information, but do contain biographic information, license renewal and some disciplinary actions. The "Doc Finder" site currently claims it has data on almost 300,000 physicians and is hoping to grow to 750,000 as more states convert their databases into a format suitable for the Internet.
In late January, the state of New York began to list profile information for professionals in more than 38 regulated professions including chiropractors, dentists, massage therapists, physical therapists and podiatrists. This profile information is available on the Internet at http://www.nysed.gov. The state also began in August 1996 to post on a separate web site disciplinary actions against physicians and physician assistants. This site does not contain any information about malpractice data, but does describe the penalty and nature of the misconduct in disciplinary actions. That site is located at http://www.health.state.ny.us.
For more information on what is happening in your specific state, contact your state medical society or your state medical licensing board.
Reported by Amy Winn, legislative analyst, Academy's department of state society relations.