Online doctor profiles likely to go on Support dying for bills to provide more data

March 28, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

An online service profiling every physician in the state is expected to go forward this summer despite dying support in Annapolis for two bills that would have greatly expanded the amount of information available to consumers.

The bills will be grouped with several other health-related proposals that legislators want to study in more detail, said Del. Ronald A. Guns, a Cecil County Democrat who heads the committee that is shelving both bills.

This session, the General Assembly faced a raft of proposals to tighten regulations on managed health care and provide consumers with better, quicker information to help in choosing doctors. Both physician-information bills would have given consumers details about malpractice judgments and hospital disciplinary actions that are currently unavailable to the public. Both were introduced late in the session, and Guns said he and other delegates felt the issue deserved a closer look.

"I feel pressure to do something to recognize the fact that there are some unhappy patients out there and some unhappy providers," Guns said.

Meanwhile, the state physician board is going ahead with the plan it disclosed last year to improve public access to information about doctors. The service will include licensing, disciplinary, education and other records.

The most controversial part of the proposal -- pending malpractice cases -- will not be included, but board members say they will continue mailing information to consumers who request it. Doctors fiercely objected to listing unresolved lawsuits online, arguing that consumers would be unfairly influenced by the cases.

With sponsorship from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the entire Senate Finance Committee, the Senate version of the bill was approved Monday after last-minute revisions. But those changes promised to intensify the debate.

In its rewritten form, the bill sought to prevent the physician board from releasing any information about pending malpractice suits, including the case numbers or copies of the complaints, which are public records.

Consumer and media groups said they intended to protest the action.

"We will certainly fight it," said Jim Donahue, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, which represents most newspapers in the region.

"If that information is public, why restrict it anywhere?" he said. "With people not having the traditional family doctor anymore, the need to know is greater than ever."

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group said it too would object. "We obviously are not going to support a rollback of information for consumers," said the group's executive director, Daniel J. Pontious.

Overall, though, Miller sought to widen public access to doctor records. The bill would have created a clearinghouse in the Attorney General's office to distribute health information gathered from a number of agencies. In addition to information about malpractice settlement awards and disciplinary actions taken by hospitals, the bill also called for public access to report cards on health maintenance organizations.

Miller's bill arrived before delegates with several other significant changes:

A suggestion to delay the online project until 1999 was written out of the bill. Miller initially had argued that a lengthy study of the potential impact on physicians and their families was needed before going online.

The disposition of paid medical malpractice claims would be reflected by three categories showing whether the amount was average, below average or above average for that doctor's specialty.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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