Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Offering Public Access to Malpractice Data Is Risky

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Offering Public Access to Malpractice Data Is Risky

Article excerpt

Do you favor or oppose the establishment of a public access database of malpractice suits? Have you ever encountered a colleague who was questionably dangerous who might have been revealed with the existence of such a database?

Patients have the right to know about a physician's disciplinary history, but a public access database of malpractice suits would do more harm than good, according to respondents to this month's Talk Back question.

"The issue is whether the information is usable or helpful," said Dr. Robert M. Wettstein of the University of Pittsburgh. In the National Practitioner Databank, each record is allotted two lines, which is not helpful and provides no context.

That a suit has been brought against a physician doesn't necessarily mean the practitioner is bad, but the public may make that assumption, respondents said.

People file malpractice suits willy-nilly against physicians because they think insurance companies and hospitals have deep pockets, said Dr. Richard D. Milone, medical director of St. Vincent's Hospital Westchester in Harrison, N.Y.

Also, certain practices and specialties may deal with difficult patients and see a higher incidence of suits, said Dr. Thomas K. Ciesla, a psychiatrist in Santa Monica, Calif.

Dr. Peter B. Gruenberg, who is in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., said he knows of a number of suits that were based on delusion. For example, the patient accused the doctor of planting a radio in the patient's brain. "The allegation won't go far in court, but it's on the record."

The information can be especially misrepresentative because insurance companies and hospitals often prefer to settle out of court, despite the physician's innocence. There are many legalities involved with malpractice suits, of which many physicians, let alone the general public, are unaware, said Dr. …

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