Case Draws Criticism of Transparency in Malpractice Arbitration Reporting System
The mother of a woman who died from Ewing's sarcoma is questioning a state law that allows HMOs to decide which doctors involved in medical malpractice arbitration awards will have their names reported to the California Medical Board, the Los Angeles Times reports.
A then 24-year-old woman went to a Kaiser Permanente hospital 13 times during the last five months of 1999 complaining of severe back pain. The patient was repeatedly misdiagnosed and died in February 2004. In May 2002, arbitrators awarded the patient nearly $1 million in damages after finding that Kaiser and "its medical providers were negligent in the belated diagnosis and treatment of claimant's Ewing's sarcoma."
However, Kaiser reported the name of only one of the six doctors who treated the woman to the state medical board. Kaiser officials said the HMO always reports doctors identified as having failed to meet standards of care to the Medical Board, but in cases where the arbitrator is less clear and more than one doctor is involved, Kaiser makes a decision on whose name is reported to the board.
Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), who wrote the 2002 legislation to require the Medical Board to post information about a doctor's disciplinary history, said she believes all of the doctors in the case should be identified by the Web site as being involved in the suit. "The law is there to make sure the public and consumers are aware of what's going on -- period. If we need to remedy this by legislative means, we will look at that," Figueroa said.
Cindy Ehnes, director of the Department of Managed Health Care, said legislation to increase transparency of the medical malpractice arbitration process might be needed.
However, Kaiser legal counsel David Lerman said, "We have to piece things together in each case and make our best determination on whom to report -- and we take that responsibility very seriously," adding that Medical Board staff have the authority to review cases and recommend whether additional doctors should be named (Vrana, Los Angeles Times, 10/23).