Md. panel to rethink data on doctors Pressure affects plans for online records of discipline, other issues


Under pressure from physicians, a state regulatory board said yesterday it will reconsider plans for a computer bulletin board listing doctors' malpractice, disciplinary and other records for consumers to read.

The backlash from doctors may lead to restrictions on paper records that the Board of Physician Quality Assurance has provided to the public for years, one board member said.

The online service is scheduled to begin next spring. But the board yesterday agreed to create an advisory group of its members, doctors and consumers, before the service goes forward.

If the board decides to include disciplinary and malpractice records online for consumers, Maryland would be the first state to do so. Those records already are available to anyone who requests them from the board, but it can take up to a month for consumers to receive the packet of information in the mail. The computer file would include details about doctors'education, hospitals where they have privileges, and board certification.

Although the board could ultimately block disclosure of some information to consumers, hospitals will receive everything. Hospitals would have physicians and others capable of understanding disciplinary and malpractice data, said Dr. Suresh C. Gupta, board chairman.

Several members of the state panel expressed sympathy yesterday with doctors who said the records could mislead consumers.

"I think the malpractice information probably will be pulled," said Dr. Cheryl Winchell, secretary-treasurer of the board. She said she also expects a debate over disciplinary records. "I don't see that it's our role to make a manual of bad doctors for people."

Board members decided to hold up action on the online service even though their administrative staff said they gave the board information about the project. Several board members learned about the project from news reports this week, according to Winchell.

"Most of us felt uninformed about this," she said. "If it was discussed at a meeting, nobody remembered it."

The board's action followed a letter Tuesday from the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, the state medical association, objecting to the wide dissemination of unresolved legal or disciplinary charges against doctors.

"This is an appropriate time to say, 'Wait, let's stop and hear a little about this, and talk about what it should include,' " T. Michael Preston, the association executive director, said yesterday, addressing the board. "This is not a process that involves other licensed professionals at this moment."

The group will probably hold several meetings beginning next month and follow them with a public hearing, said Gupta. The board intends to close those meetings to the public, he said, to avoid being hindered by "too many people."

Among the issues the board discussed privately with its attorney yesterday afternoon was whether it should release malpractice records at all, Gupta said. Lists of malpractice lawsuits filed against a doctor are now included in the packets sent to consumers. A case number is included, but no other facts. Doctors argue that 80 percent of such suits are dismissed as being without merit, and that many doctors are being tainted by incomplete records.

Winchell also said there was opposition within the board to putting the service on the Internet, which officials earlier said they would do eventually.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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