Accuracy of Virginia Physician Web Site Questioned
Although Virginia's new physician Web site requires state doctors to report disciplinary actions taken against them, the Washington Post reports that an "absence of relevant information" and "misrepresentations" in some cases have raised questions about the "completeness and accuracy" of the site. Virginia launched the Web site, www.vahealthproviders.com, in July to serve as a "comprehensive source of information" for patients about the state's 31,000 physicians and osteopaths. However, the site relies on doctors to provide the information, which includes training, credentials, a 10-year history of malpractice payments and disciplinary actions taken by Virginia, a "professional licensing board in a state other than Virginia, or a federal agency." According to Charles Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, a patient advocacy group in Pennsylvania, "It's the fox guarding the henhouse, and consumers have to be skeptical." He said that to "check a doctor's complete disciplinary history," patients must determine the states where a physician has practiced and search records in each state. Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, added that state physician Web sites "vary tremendously in the amount of useful information they provide." The Virginia Web site, for example does not include disciplinary orders and "notices" issued after a formal investigation and a "finding of probable cause." In addition, the site includes no information about doctors who lost their licenses before March 13, 2001. Robert Nebiker, deputy director of the Virginia Department of Health Professions, which administers the Web site, said that "it is impossible -- or would be extremely costly -- to try and verify all this data" that doctors provide for the site. He added, however, that doctors who omit or falsify data could face a number of sanctions, including loss of license (Boodman, Washington Post, 9/25).