Doctors decry malpractice proposal

Charlotte Business Journal – by Taylor Bright

They came, they saw, they complained. On Monday, physicians and other medical professionals spoke against a proposal that would post each N.C. doctor’s malpractice history on the N.C. Medical Board Web site.

Jean Fisher, spokeswoman for the board, says there was a 3-1 ratio against the proposal among the 32 individuals who spoke at a public hearing in Raleigh.

The medical board has proposed posting personal information about doctors, including payments made by their insurers to patients in malpractice cases. Such postings are made in 20 states.

N.C. physicians have balked at the change, saying the general public won’t be able to discriminate between payments made for faulty care and payments made to avert litigation over dubious claims. They fear individuals will see the judgments and decide not to seek care from doctors who have paid a settlement.

“It’s just confusing to people to sort out,� says Dr. Darlyne Menscer, a faculty member at Carolinas Medical Center and past president of the N.C. Medical Association, a state group which lobbies on behalf of doctors.

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed change July 16. But Fisher says it’s possible a decision won’t be made until September.

At present, the board includes a minimal amount of information about doctors on its Web site. And it has faced criticism in the past for allowing doctors with checkered histories to practice medicine in North Carolina.

“It’s an overcorrection for past shortcomings,� Menscer says of the proposal.

In 2005, media reports revealed the state had allowed a partially blind surgeon to practice without restrictions and had failed to discipline a doctor in Wilmington who was performing different weight-loss surgeries on his patients than the ones the patients thought they were receiving.

A year later, the N.C. legislature gave the board more power to investigate and discipline doctors.

By law, malpractice insurers must report their payments to the board. In 2005, the board found that for the previous 10 years, 2,317 physicians reported one or more payments, 213 had two or more payments, 40 had three or more payments and six had five or more.

Doctors say more malpractice cases that would be settled privately may now be taken to court.

“Part of the reason physicians make settlements is because they’re not made public,� Menscer says.

Approximately 22,000 doctors and 3,000 physician assistants would be affected by the change.

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