Probe: Mass. Omitting, Removing Data From Online Doctor Profiles

Massachusetts' medical board routinely removes or omits certain data -- such as malpractice allegations and criminal convictions -- from an online public database, according to an investigation by the Northeastern University Initiative for Investigative Reporting, the Boston Globe reports.

Background

In 1996, Massachusetts' Board of Registration in Medicine developed the first physician profile database in the U.S. after a series of medical errors went unchecked at Quincy Medical Center and after several Globe articles highlighted how little patients know about their physicians.

The database became a model for other states' medical boards.

However, other medical boards have adopted new technology over the last 15 years to make their records more transparent to consumers, but the Massachusetts board has not updated its disclosure policies, the Globe reports.

Details of the Investigation

According to the Northeastern University Initiative for Investigative Reporting, Massachusetts' medical board has:

  • Not posted its own disciplinary orders, even though boards in 36 other states post their own disciplinary actions;
  • Taken down the online profiles of physicians who lose or fail to renew their licenses, leaving no sign of malpractice allegations or disciplinary actions if the physicians go on to practice in other states;
  • Removed disciplinary and malpractice records after 10 years;
  • Not publicly disclosed when Massachusetts doctors are penalized by other states' medical boards, even though state law requires such disclosure; and
  • Posted only clinical privilege penalties imposed by hospitals, omitting sanctions imposed by clinics, outpatient centers, nursing homes and other nonhospital settings.

Medical Board's Response

Officials from the seven-member medical board said some of the board's policies -- such as removing disciplinary records after 10 years and excluding nonhospital sanctions from the online profiles -- are required by state law and thereby beyond their ability to control.

Stancel Riley -- the medical board's executive director -- defended the practice of deleting disciplinary records after 10 years, saying that "if nothing has happened to you in 10 years, you would think that would be a good indicator that you were pretty good."

Brenda Beaton -- the medical board's general counsel -- said that out-of-state disciplinary actions have been excluded from physicians' online profiles for the past 16 years because the board does not have an effective way to ensure that such information is fully accurate (Borchers/Kurkjian, Boston Globe, 3/18).


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