To the editor:
Your article on the malpractice tracking efforts of Les ["An Ounce of Prevention," March 29] underscores what the Coalition for Consumer Rights has been pushing in Springfield for years now--patients' right to know about their physicians' professional backgrounds, including malpractice payment histories. The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation (DPR)--the regulatory agency for physicians in this state--has access to all kinds of information about doctors, such as criminal convictions, malpractice awards and settlements, and educational background. Yet DPR provides minimal information to those who conduct a license look-up on its Web site; patients cannot even get the practice address, gender, or specialty of a physician via the DPR site.
The Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) has vigorously opposed comprehensive physician profiles on the grounds that profiles might hurt "good" doctors who have settled malpractice lawsuits. It also maintains that doctors may not be consulted as to the accuracy of the information provided, even though the proposed legislation specifically contains this provision. Yet surely the ISMS would prefer cooperating with DPR over leaving consumers with no choice but to consult the unverified information published on sites such as Les's. And certainly the ISMS would prefer a site that provides contextual information on malpractice, a site that balances a physician's accomplishments and awards with data about adverse consequences such as disciplinary actions or hospital-privilege revocations.
The state medical boards of at least nine states have already created the kind of physician-profiling program advocated by the coalition (additionally, the sites of 26 other states provide more information than DPR). The success of these programs illustrates the benefits of cooperation between physicians, regulatory agencies, and consumers in the arena of public disclosure. It is time for those at DPR to fall in line with the rest of the country and stop forcing private citizens like Les to do their work for them.
Policy Director, Coalition for Consumer Rights