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NC Medical Board Attempts Transparency on Website, Meets With Opposition

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In response to a new law, the North Carolina Medical Board announced last Monday that it has expanded its website to include malpractice settlements or judgments and criminal records for 35,000 physicians and physician assistants. The move represents the first time that consumers can easily access information regarding doctors that have settled or lost malpractice claims, or been convicted of crimes.

The law was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2007 and requires that the NC medical board publish the crucial information regarding malpractice payments, convictions, hospital suspensions, or disciplinary action by medical boards in other states. Public confidence in the NC Medical Board had declined in recent years, with increasing criticism from consumers who felt the board had failed to protect people from bad doctors. To increase public confidence, the board actually pushed for the new law, which will allow it to become more transparent.

Nevertheless, the board still met with resistance to its new policy. Some doctors, hospitals, insurers that write medical malpractice policies, and the attorneys who have defended doctors and hospitals against patient lawsuits, argue that posting settlements from past years breaks secrecy clauses in some suits that are legally binding. They argue that posting the data would breach those agreements; some have even threatened litigation over the new policy that would allow the board to post malpractice and judgments from the past 7 years that included payments of $25,000 or more. Despite the board’s attempts to increase patient confidence, the NC Medical Society, a private lobbying association on behalf of 11,000 physician members, stepped in and got the attention of legislators. Before the original plan was set in place, legislators changed the board’s plans and passed a bill that only allows the board to publicize settlements made on or after May 1, 2008 with a minimum payout of $75,000. However, felony convictions of physicians or physician assistants and medical board discipline will stay on the website indefinitely.

While legislators already bent to appease the NC Medical Society, the society’s officials still claim to “have concerns that the board’s Web site doesn’t distinguish between ‘frivolous’ lawsuits and cases that involve ‘quality of care’.” Apparently the safety of patients and their confidence in their doctors doesn’t count for much, at least not to the NC Medical Society.