Doctors aim to halt state online plan Service would offer data on discipline, malpractice cases; Spring start planned; Physicians angry they weren't told, demand a review


Angered by a state plan to offer consumers online physician profiles that include disciplinary and malpractice records, Maryland's largest organization of doctors will try today to temporarily derail the project.

The program, developed through the Board of Physician Quality Assurance, is set to begin next spring after two years of development. Doctors argue that the information could leave consumers more confused than enlightened. And they are furious at not being informed about the project.

"This is a matter about which we were not advised or consulted, and we understand that even various board members of the BPQA itself were not aware of this," Dr. Alex Azar, president of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, wrote in a letter to the board yesterday.

Med-Chi officials, who represent nearly 7,000 doctors, say they will attend a state panel meeting this afternoon to ask that the project be suspended until there can be a review with input from physicians and the public. If the board does not agree, Med-Chi is prepared to go to court, Azar wrote. Short of such a review, the project might not be legal, Azar suggested in the letter.

J. Michael Compton, executive director of the state panel, declined to comment on Med-Chi's letter, saying he wanted to first speak with attorneys and with board chairman Dr. Suresh Gupta, who was out of town late yesterday.

"I'm sure the chairman will entertain their request [to speak to the board] and let them voice whatever concerns they have," he said.

Under the current timetable, Maryland is expected to become the first state in the nation to offer malpractice and disciplinary information online; officials say they plan to later put the information on the Internet. No state boards currently offer online physician profiles.

Advocates of the project say it will allow consumers to make faster, better-informed health care decisions.

In Massachusetts, consumers last month began using what is considered the most expansive physician profile service in the country. The information, which must be obtained by mail or fax, includes malpractice claims, but only those that were resolved against a doctor.

In Maryland, malpractice records would include a list of every claim filed with the state Health Claims Arbitration Office and the case number. Disciplinary records would include any charge or order against a doctor, when it took effect and the sanction or fine.

The computer files also would include medical schools the doctor attended, specialties and hospitals where he has privileges.

The board's only physician information that won't be posted on the computer is the full text of disciplinary charges or orders. Otherwise, the information is identical to what consumers receive through a longer process -- writing a request to the board and waiting for the report to arrive in the mail, which takes from 10 days to a month.

"We're not against consumer information, but we are against information that can be misleading," said T. Michael Preston, Med-Chi's executive director. "The real concern is not for physicians who have been disciplined, but for those in the gray area, whose charges have not been adjudicated, whose lawsuits have not been resolved."

Preston said he objects to any charge, be it lawsuit or disciplinary complaint, on the computer system if it has not been resolved.

"What happens is, patients base whether a physician is chosen or not on whether anything negative on them is in the data bank," said Dr. Stephen Izzi, a family practitioner in Glen Burnie. "If a physician's going to be chosen on the basis of that, he should at least be able to make a comment on the merits."

More complete profiles are a relatively new adventure for medical boards.

"Everybody is watching to see what happens," said Dale Austin of the Federation of State Medical Boards, a Fort Worth, Texas, PTC organization that coordinates doctor records from medical boards nationwide. "I think the jury's out a little bit on whether this is useful or helpful. There's an incredible risk in this kind of business because it does hold someone's professional career in the balance."

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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