Bill would open more physician records But legislation would delay online profiles until 1998


A late-entry bill to the Maryland General Assembly would open a trove of physician disciplinary and malpractice records never before available to the public, while derailing state plans for online profiles of doctors until at least late 1998.

The bill, introduced last week by Del. Henry B. Heller, a Montgomery Democrat, apparently took physicians and the state doctors board by surprise.

It is adding fuel to the debate over an online bank of doctor records that the state plans to make publicly available this summer. With the service, consumers would have quick access to public disciplinary and licensing records and other physician background.

Heller's bill would shed more light on doctors. It would require the state Board of Physician Quality Assurance, which licenses and disciplines doctors, to compile criminal records, malpractice settlements and disciplinary steps taken by hospitals and health maintenance organizations, and share the data with the public.

Under the bill, the board would be prohibited from releasing what has become the most controversial element in the online plan -- lists of unresolved malpractice suits. Heller said he sides with doctors who worry that patients will unfairly reject physicians before cases are concluded.

Those records still would be available to the public through the courts or from the state Health Claims Arbitration Office, where all malpractice suits are filed.

Heller also worries about disseminating records electronically and proposed a study to measure the impact on physicians. The bill would prohibit the board from releasing doctor records electronically until at least October 1998.

Heller said the bill evolved from talks with senior citizens and teachers in his district.

Heller, the bill's sole sponsor, acknowledged that it faces an uphill battle. Doctors and the physicians board are reviewing it.

"It's going in the right direction," said T. Michael Preston, executive director of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, which represents 7,000 physicians. The group probably will support the bill, he added.

"I haven't found anything that's a problem, except figuring out how it gets done."

The same question is being asked at the physicians board.

"From my first read on it, it looks like it's going to be quite expensive," said J. Michael Compton, the panel's executive director. "It would take hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement this thing. It's not a bad idea, but you're asking the board to do something it does not do."

Like the Massachusetts law on which it is modeled, Heller's bill gives doctors a voice. It would allow them to include biographies with such information as awards they have won or teaching positions they hold at universities. It also would require the board show doctors their profiles before making them public, creating an opportunity to correct errors.

The mailing demands of such a system would be costly, Compton said. In Massachusetts, it meant hiring four people.

The bill will be discussed with board members at their monthly meeting today, he said.

Public records at the physicians board are among data at scores of state agencies that is poised to go online as part of the Maryland Electronic Capital, a network of state government Web sites that has become a priority for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled before the House Environmental Matters Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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