The state board that licenses and disciplines doctors is seeking legislation that would give the public the right to review charges against doctors suspected of incompetence or abusive behavior, board officials said yesterday.
The officials said they agreed with a recent legislative audit that suggested the easing of privacy rights given physicians who have been charged but not yet cleared or found guilty of misconduct.
Dr. Israel H. Weiner, chairman of the state Board of Physician Quality Assurance, said that such a move not only would end the shield given to doctors against whom there is substantial evidence of misconduct, but also would alleviate the frustrations of those making the complaints, who often are kept in the dark about the board's proceedings for months after filing a grievance.
"They say, 'I filed a complaint six months ago, and I haven't seen anything. What's going on?'" Dr. Weiner said. "Under present law, all we can say is 'no comment,' or 'it's under investigation' or some bland response."
The legislative audit, completed last month by the Department of Fiscal Services, said that in a survey of 200 people who had made complaints, three-quarters expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of information available about the status of investigations.
In the legislative audit, Ann Martino of the Department of Fiscal Services said current law gives physicians much broader protections than are given to defendants in judicial proceedings.
Under current law, the 15-member board is prohibited from releasing any information about an investigation until it has taken final action, such as suspending or revoking a doctor's license to practice. If the board clears a physician of wrongdoing, details of the investigation are never released.
It takes an average of 16 months to reach a resolution after a complaint has been lodged, said J. Michael Compton, the board's executive director.
Last spring, the board quietly filed a legislative proposal that would allow public disclosure once a doctor has been charged with practices such as sexual misconduct, substance abuse or incompetence. Charges are issued six to nine months before the board takes formal action, so the proposal effectively would halve the time it takes for details of the board's investigation to come to light.