Dr. Otis Bowen, outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced Friday the creation of a national data bank to allow hospitals and state licensingboards to keep tabs on bad doctors.
Bowen said he hoped the system would help reduce malpractice, prevent fraudulent doctors and dentists from setting up practice, and block doctors and dentists censured in one state from getting licenses and hospital privileges in others.Consumers will have no access to the information, and the data bank will not include any information on doctors' actions that occurred before the summer of 1989.
Bowen said this was to protect doctors' privacy and contended malpractic convictions do not always prove a doctor has committed malpractice - only that the victim was able to sway a sympathetic jury.
For consumers seeking information on doctors, Bowen said, "There are other ways - finding out the doctor's reputation in the community, asking neighbors, friends . . . asking for medical societies' professional recommendations. Those measures are very adequate."
At a news conference, Bowen announced Unisys, a computer company in Blue Bell, Pa., had been given the five-year, $15.9 million contract to set up and run the data bank, which will begin operating in mid-summer.
The national information pool, mandated by the 1986 Health Care Quality Improvement Act, requires authorities to report serious sanctions against doctors and dentists, payments made for malpractice claims or settlements and other disciplinary actions, such as getting kicked out medical societies for incompetence or improper conduct.
Bowen said the American Medical Association had supported the development of the data bank and would have a seat on the advisory committee overseeing its operation. The AMA could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, called it an "outrage" that consumers will not have access to the publicly funded data bank.
"If a doctor has been found incompetent by virtue of having his licensed revoked or being on probation, in which case he can still be practicing medicine, everyone should be able to find that out," said Wolfe, noting that in most states patients have to go to court to get information on a doctor's disciplinary status.
"Patients are the ones who stand to lose the most - being injured or killed by an incompetent doctor," he added.
Wolfe was also upset that information on doctors' problems problem prior to mid-1989 would be missing from the information pool.
Hospitals will be required to consult the data bank about every doctor on staff every two years, and before giving a new doctor hospital privileges. Licensing boards are not required to consult the data, but Dr. J. Jarrett Clinton, director of the federal bureau of health professions, said all are very enthusiastic about being able to do so.
Bowen said there are no reliable statistics on the prevalence of malpractice but contended there are "hundreds, maybe thousands" of doctors with faked credentials in the United States.