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Feb 19 2015

Getting Away With Murder? Public Records, New York and Across the US

ollyThis post is two things:

1.  A description of the problem which has to do with money, influence, and once again, it’s the little guy who will lose out.

2.  A call to action for those who live in New York State – where the most egregious of examples is taking place now. (And may be able to be stopped.)

The Problem: 

There is no one comprehensive and accurate repository for information about a doctor’s malpractice record in the United States that patients have access to. (the key: “that patients have access to.”)  Granted, there are plenty of doctor ratings websites out there, but their track records have been dismal when it comes to keeping up with even the most egregious of physician-offenders.

The one neutral reference we have had for learning about doctors’ track records, including the details of the errors of their ways, has been through state-sponsored doctor databases.  Now, these sites have flaws, too. For example, in many states, the information found in them them is self-reported. But at least these sites have teeth, and doctors know they can lose their licenses if they don’t report malpractice suits and arrests.

Even the best of the ratings websites (like Vitals or Healthgrades) have only limited information about lawsuits – usually just that they existed.  At least the state-run sites provide details like whether or not the doctor fought the suit and won, or lost, or what the damages were. Did a patient die unnecessarily? Did the doctor commit fraud?

(In fairness, keep in mind that just because a patient or family member files a lawsuit doesn’t mean the doctor was in the wrong.  And, it’s true, often doctors – or more likely their malpractice insurers – will settle out of court because fighting a suit is such a long, protracted, expensive event.)

However – the point is – that it’s these state-sponsored databases that supply the depth of information we patients need for doing our research on doctors we might want to trust with our medical care. Further, state-run databases and sites don’t rely on advertising, or extortion, or selling our personal information for their income.

The problem is – in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo has decided to remove our doctor profiles site from the internet.  He said it’s to save money – an estimated $1.2 million per year.

Yes – do the math – that cost is 6 cents per New York State resident.

I think (personal opinion only) just as likely is that many of the governor’s friends (physician or hospital administrator donors and PACs) don’t want that database to exist.

Now – even if you don’t live in New York, this should be disturbing to you. Too frequently doctors move from state-to-state to try to escape their track records of abuse and death. At least state-run websites aren’t beholden to advertisements and selling your personal information to profit.  They are neutral and independent even if they aren’t updated 100% of the time. Further, if the site gets pulled in NY, then other governors will look at it as a way to 1. save money (a pittance, but to the uninformed it sounds like a lot) and 2. make those physician and hospital donors and their PACs very happy.  You’ll lose your access to that information in your state, too.

So – the call to action for New Yorkers (with thanks to Ilene Corina for this information):

If you want the NY State physician profile site to stay online, and the requirements for them to be updated to stay in force, please call the governor’s office and let him know. It won’t take you a full 3 minutes:

Phone Governor Cuomo at 518-474-1041 ext. 3.  Tell the person answering the phone that  “I want Physician Profiles left in the NY State budget”. You’ll be asked for your zip code (no more – no personal information.)

Today.

That’s my 6 cents.

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Do you have advice or a story to share that illustrates this post?  Please share in the comments below.

Want more great tips for smart, empowered patients?
Read my book:  You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes (How to Fix Them to Get the Healthcare You Deserve)

 

 

2 comments

  1. Jay Miller

    I found a writing of yours, from a bit back in time, regarding the practices of the so-called Johns Hopkins White Papers. I, too, have plied them with letters requesting that they cease and desist from sending their “white papers” and the attendant bills to me. They keep coming. Do you know of any investigations into the company (either Johns Hopkins or Remedy Media) that are in process? Do you know if any Attorneys General have filed actions against the Texas-based Remedy Media? Thank you.

  2. EveryPatientsAdvocate.com

    Hi Jay, Yes – you found those articles at my (former) about.com patient empowerment site. You should be able to find phone numbers and contact info there to help you stop those bills and additional, unordered papers.

    If the information has changed, or if legal action is taking place, I am not aware of it. Further, since About.com kicked me to the curb in mid-2014, I have no ability to update the information there. So, if you find new information and can share it, please feel free to do so. You’ll find my email address to the right at the top of this page.

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