Another Effort to Hide Doctors Behaving Badly

Several years ago, the New York State Health Department began publishing physician profiles consumers could review to help determine the doctors’ competence. In December, NYDoctorProfile.com was visited 35,000 times, clearly a popular resource for info seekers. But last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lopped the program from his proposed budget, claiming that the information it offered was now available on other websites.

But as the civil justice website PopTort made clear, the governor’s effort to compile a responsible budget is misguided and possibly disingenuous. The doc-dissing site isn’t budgetary fat, it’s sustenance for the peoples’ right to know.

According to PopTort, the program was born after the New York Daily News published an exposé in 2000 that discovered that “hundreds of New York State doctors, dentists and podiatrists – ranging from modest practitioners to prominent surgeons – have amassed extensive hidden histories of malpractice, yet continue to treat patients.”

A later story in the New York Post found: “Some of [New York City’s] most frequently sued doctors are still practicing with the blessing of the state Health Department.” Among the offenses the paper noted were “possibly setting off an outbreak of hepatitis C and botching boob jobs and face lifts.”

Like most states, New York used to make it impossible to find out anything about a doctor. PopTort recalled an NPR interview with Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of the public watchdog Public Citizen, who said, “You know more about the safety of your automobile than you know about the safety of your doctor. That’s just unconscionable.”

New York stepped up and passed legislation ending the ban on disclosing malpractice histories. It went further, requiring the Health Department to make this important information available to the public.

Cuomo, PopTort said, is utterly wrong in claiming that doctors who harm patients can be found easily these days on private websites. As 16 consumer advocacy groups, including Consumers Union, New Yorkers for Patient & Family Empowerment and Citizen Action of New York, wrote in a letter to the governor objecting to defunding the doctor info site, “… if just one person avoids death or disability because they use this site to choose a doctor with better credentials, the money is well worth it.”

The groups also advocate expanding the state’s site to include similar information about hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices.

The objections were loud and persuasive enough to prompt the governor to continue funding the part of the program that discloses doctors’ malpractice histories, but that’s not good enough. He should understand the scope of harm medical errors continue to wreak in this country, and sustain the full disclosure program. Health care is increasingly difficult for consumers to navigate, and the state is obliged to help them.

Several New York newspapers have expressed outrage over the proposed defunding, and we agree with Newsday, which editorialized that not only is NYDoctorProfile.com one of the nation’s most forward-thinking patient safety advancements, it should be a source of pride for New York State. “Instead,” said PopTort, “the Governor seems to want to destroy it – and that’s shameful.”

To find out if your doctor has been in trouble, link to our blog. And see our backgrounder on medical malpractice.

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