Syracuse, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shut down a free state website that provides details on New York City physicians’ medical malpractice records, hospital affiliations and other basic information.
A two-sentence item buried in Cuomo’s proposed budget indicates that the New York State Physician Profile website should be removed as much of the information is available elsewhere on the web. Scuttling the website would save the state $ 1.2 million a year.
The proposal surprised and angered some consumer and patient safety advocates who say the website is an important tool that helps New Yorkers choose doctors.
“They just make it harder for consumers to shop smart for doctors,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “This is wrong and we will do everything we can to kill the governor’s proposal.”
The state enacted a law in 2000 that called for the creation of the website. The legislation has been spurred in part by some high-profile cases in which patients have been injured by doctors with unclear history.
The state Department of Health operates the website. In addition to the lawsuits brought against the doctors, the website highlights their medical education and training, malpractice disciplinary actions, board certifications, the health insurance plans they accept and other basic information.
The free site attracted more than 35,000 visitors in December.
It directs visitors looking for information on malpractice disciplinary action against physicians to the website of the Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which is also maintained by the State Department of Health.
The Department of Health said much of the other information on the physician profile site can be found on websites operated by the American Board of Medical Specialties, the Federation of State Medical Boards, HealthGrades and WebMD. .
The American Board of Medical Specialties, a nonprofit organization, lets users of its website find out if a doctor is board certified. The site is free, but consumers must register to use it.
The Federation of State Medical Boards, a nonprofit organization, allows users to search its national database for disciplinary actions and other general information about physicians. He charges $ 9.95 per physician search.
The websites HealthGrades and WebMD, run by private companies, also provide general information about physicians free of charge.
Horner of NYPIRG said the information on the state’s physician profile website is more reliable because physicians are required by state law to provide information for the site. Doctors who provide false information can be charged with malpractice.
Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, said consumers have no way of determining the credibility of other websites.
“It worries me that we are closing the only site with the official Ministry of Health stamp,” said Gottfried, who sponsored a bill in 1999 to create the website. “As we move towards more transparency and public access to health care information, this proposal takes us in the opposite direction.”
Ilene Corina of Long Island helped lead a popular lobbying effort to create the website. Corina founded PULSE of New York, a patient advocacy group, in 1997 after her 3-year-old son died of blood after a routine tonsillectomy.
Corina said she knows of patients in hospitals who access the Doctors Profile website on their smartphones because they don’t know the doctors who treat them.
“We need to empower patients to become more involved in their care and to use these services even more, without taking them away,” she said.
The death of a young woman resulted in the creation of a website
The State Medical Society, which represents doctors, has fought efforts to post information about malpractice on the website. He persuaded lawmakers to limit the amount of malpractice information disclosed on the website. The profile was originally supposed to show all payments made by doctors to settle malpractice lawsuits over the past 10 years. But lawmakers have accepted a request from the medical society to exclude a doctor’s first two payments. As a result, settlement payments only appear in a physician’s profile if there have been three or more in the past 10 years. The profile does not show the dollar amount of the payments, but indicates whether the payments are average, below average, or above average compared to settlement payments made by other physicians in the same specialty.
Elizabeth Dears of the State Medical Society said her group did not ask the state to get rid of the website.
Art Levin of the Center for Medical Consumers, a patient advocacy group that pushed for the website’s creation, said the site never lived up to his expectations. He said the state either did not provide enough funds for it or did not do enough to publicize it.
He said the cost of operating the website is a small portion of Cuomo’s proposed overall budget of $ 142 billion.
“What is a million dollars for the state?” Said Levine. “It’s like a stupid change.”
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