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Why not more facts?

May 27, 1997

Would you like to know whether your doctor had ever been sued for malpractice, and if so, what the verdict was?

Most people would say yes. But even though we're in favor of full disclosure whenever possible, we're not sure a proposal now being considered by two Pennsylvania lawmakers is fair - or will do what they want it to do.

Reps. Anthony DeLuca, D-Allegheny, and T.J. Rooney, D-Lehigh, would like to amend the state's confidentiality laws to allow malpractice judgments to be placed on a doctor-referral web page under study by the Pennsylvania Medical Board.

Rep. Rooney says the bill is "not (designed) to be punitive against doctors, but it's an important component, especially with the changing face of medicine."

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Dr. Victor Greco, president of the state's medical society, objects to the idea, saying that "You (as a patient) have no way of interpreting the information you get."

According to The Associated Press, such a system is already in use in Massachusetts, where 27,000 doctor profiles include everything from information on whether the doctor is accepting new patients to the date of the last malpractice claim. Pennsylvania law, however, keeps malpractice judgment records private.

Two questions ought to be answered before any system like this is put into place in Pennsylvania. The first is whether court costs increased after states like Massachusetts legalized full disclosure. If all judgments that go against doctors are listed, wouldn't that encourage physicians and their insurers to fight every claim to the bitter end, and would that be in patients' best interests?

The second and more important question is: Why should the judgment record be the only thing listed on the web page? Why not a summary of the case, and statements from plaintiff and defendant as well?

In that way, each side would be able to put its side on the record, so prospective patients would be able to get some sense of whether a claim was settled because the doctor didn't want to spend the next year in court, or because he feared that not settling might mean losing everything.

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