Two State Medical Society Leaders Debate Online Malpractice Information in New York Times
Yesterday's New York Times featured a debate between the presidents of two state medical societies about whether information about medical malpractice lawsuits should be posted on the Internet. Currently, at least 15 states provide some physician malpractice information online, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards, but most states' medical societies oppose the practice. Dr. Ronald Rueker, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, argued that malpractice information should not be published because it is "not necessarily an indicator of a physician's quality." According to Rueker, the incidence of malpractice suits "fluctuate[s]" according to medical specialty, case mix and geography. For example, three lawsuits in 10 years might not be "unusual" in the field of obstetrics and gynecology, while that figure could be "alarming" in another specialty, Rueker said. "Hospitals and insurance companies know how to interpret medical malpractice data," Rueker said. But releasing it to the public "raises too many questions" and, in the end, "won't make things safer," he warned.
The Massachusetts Medical Society, however, believes that posting "some" malpractice information on the Web "does no harm," according to MMS President Dr. Francis Rockett. In 1996, when the Massachusetts medical board began work on a physician profiling Web site, the society worked with the board to offer its input. Today, the Web site includes information about paid malpractice claims, but it also provides context for the information, Rockett noted. For example, Rockett's own profile states that his specialty, neurosurgery, has a high rate of malpractice cases, and then says Rockett has had only one malpractice settlement in 10 years. The society also persuaded the medical board to exclude some information about malpractice cases, such as medical details, dollar amounts of awards and claims against physicians that do not result in a settlement. The medical society felt it "wouldn't be fair" to publish those details. "Physicians are eager to see bad doctors sorted out and the situation fixed, or the doctor removed from practice," Rockett concluded. "The real task is to give the state boards the resources to do investigative work" (Scott, New York Times, 3/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.