If patients in Maryland want to learn about complaints or concerns about their doctors, there is little that can be made public under state law. But that's not the case in all states.
Complaints made to medical licensing boards are made public in nine states, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards. Here and in most of the rest of the country, complaints are kept confidential. The Maryland Board of Physicians makes allegations public only when it has taken action to discipline a doctor.
But some patient advocates have argued that more information should be shared openly, given the case of Dr. William Dando, who was indicted in late May and accused of sexually assaulting a patient in an Allegany County clinic. It was discovered that Dando had been licensed to practice in Maryland in 1996 despite a conviction for raping a woman at gunpoint nearly a decade earlier in Florida — leading state health officials to launch an investigation Thursday.
Maryland law gives doctors broad privacy protections when it comes to disciplinary matters or other Board of Physicians proceedings. Acting board executive director Christine Farrelly cited state code in declining to disclose how Dando answered questions about past convictions and arrests when he applied for his medical license, and also in declining to disclose details about Dando's participation in a physician rehabilitation program for alcohol abuse.
Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, a branch of Consumer Reports, said states should consider making complaints against doctors public in the interest of patient safety.
In Georgia, Hawaii and Washington, complaints against medical doctors are made public even before an investigation is completed or a decision reached, according to the medical boards federation. In 12 states, not including Maryland, informal actions taken against licensees are made public.
Physicians' profiles in state medical board records are also more detailed elsewhere. In Maryland, a section on criminal convictions is limited to crimes of "moral turpitude," whereas in nearly two dozen other states, convictions are listed more broadly.
McGiffert and another patient advocate, Lisae C. Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, expressed incredulity that Maryland's physicians board does not conduct criminal background checks of applicants for licensure, even though boards overseeing nurses, social workers and therapists conduct such checks.