Web site will offer checkup on Pennsylvania-licensed doctors

  1. Web site will offer checkup on Pennsylvania-licensed doctors
    Service to reveal limited license, disciplinary data

    Monday, July 02, 2001

    By Christopher Snowbeck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

    A state Web site scheduled to be launched today is a step toward offering consumers the sort of information about physician quality that has been sorely lacking.

    But the step forward is really quite small, consumer advocates contend.

    The Web site, www.LicensePA. state.pa.us, will let consumers know if a doctor has been disciplined by the state Board of Medicine. The Web site will also tell of past disciplinary actions, but it won't say why a doctor has been disciplined.

    Consumers can get that information, but they will have to phone the state's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs to get it. The Web site will, in some cases, offer information about a doctor's training. In the future, physicians will be able to renew their licenses through the Internet.

    "I think this system will be extremely helpful," said Jasmine Bucher, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

    Bucher noted that the department handles thousands of inquiries each year about license status and the Web site will help those consumers more quickly gather information.

    But consumer advocates aren't overjoyed.

    "That's a system that is minimal at best," said Ray McEachern, president of the Association for Responsible Medical Practice in Tampa, Fla.

    In contrast with Pennsylvania, Florida provides consumers a Web site that lists a doctor's educational background, specialty certification, malpractice insurance coverage and, most importantly, liability claims in the past 10 years that have exceeded $5,000.

    Massachusetts provides online physician profiles that include information about malpractice settlements, but with less specificity and more context than the Florida Web site.

    Florida provides the case number, jurisdiction and settlement amounts for each malpractice settlement with which any given doctor has been involved.

    The profile of one randomly selected obstetrician-gynecologist -- Francisco A. Smith of Naples, Fla. -- shows settled lawsuits in 1997 and 2001 in Collier County.

    The amount of the first settlement was $80,000 and the amount of the second was $200,000.

    In Massachusetts, the profile for another randomly selected Dr. Smith -- Almena Palombo Smith -- shows the physician has been fully licensed for 17 years and is one of 1,061 ob-gyn specialists in the state.

    The Web site goes on to say that 411 of these doctors have made malpractice payments in the past 10 years and that Smith has made one payment.

    Instead of listing the amount of the payout, the Web site simply describes its size as "average" for payouts made by doctors in that specialty.

    "In our view, it's helped doctor-patient relationships because everything is out on the table," said Frank Fortin, spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Society.

    State Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, for several years has introduced legislation to create a similar resource for Pennsylvania, but the bill has been opposed by doctors, he said.

    "That's certainly not enough to let the consumers know what is going on," DeLuca said of the new state Web site.

    Jeff Greenawalt, director of educational and scientific affairs at the Pennsylvania Medical Society, said his organization does not believe malpractice information is useful for consumers.

    The medical society favors increasing funding for the state Board of Medicine to improve its discipline efforts, Greenawalt said.

    Pennsylvania's new Web site "is another tool that helps the information be more accessible," he said.
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