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Congress Debates Access to Doctors Databank

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The state board provides online consumer access to data on all in-state physicians, including information on paid malpractice claims, hospital disciplinary actions, board disciplinary actions, and criminal history. The program was launched in late 1996.

Reardon argued that a Washington initiative is unnecessary, since 16 state medical boards now have "physician profile" programs for consumers.

But Bliley maintained that federal action is necessary, "given the demonstrated ability of questionable doctors to move from state to state and slip through the regulatory cracks."

According to Bliley, "Public access to the [databank] may be one of the best and quickest ways to improve patient safety."

Opening the databank wouldn't be a cure-all for consumers, even advocates concede. Robert Newman, MD, president of Continuum Health Partners, Beth Israel's parent company, testified that he supports open access. But even for an extreme situation such as Zarkin's case, he noted, the physician's sole entry in the databank was a 1994 malpractice settlement for a 1987 case.

The database may not be receiving all the information it is supposed to. The government has, for example, reported that over 65% of the nation's hospitals have never reported any actions taken against physician credentials.

With no clear consensus on how to proceed, and a packed calendar for the year, it is unclear how the House would move forward on access to the databank. Neither Bliley nor any other subcommittee member has introduced legislation on the issue.

 

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