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What Good is Medical Malpractice Data if Consumers Don't Know?

Seventeen states in this country allow consumers to go to medical board websites to find out about malpractice claims that have been made against doctors licensed in the states.

That is not the case in Missouri or Kansas. Licensing boards in these two states don’t make such information available to the public. As a result, according to an investigation by The Kansas City Star, people likely don’t know that there are at least 21 doctors with lengthy records of malpractice claims against them. All remain licensed in good standing in the states.

Payouts in the cases against these doctors were for at least 10 claims of wrongful death. The Star says at least 32 patients brought claims that they had sustained serious permanent injuries from botched treatments.

There’s no record that any disciplinary action was ever taken against the doctors. As the newspaper observes, the only way anyone might have of finding out that they have judgments against them is if they scoured state court records.

Because of this shroud of virtual secrecy, it should not be a surprise if the family of someone who died or a victim who has been left maimed by medical error or negligence might be put off from seeking the compensation they may be due. The right to seek that accountability exists, however, and is best exercised with an attorney’s help.

Officials of the state boards in Missouri and Kansas insist they take malpractice history into consideration when reports are received. But an official with the Kansas board says the mere presence of a malpractice payout on a doctor’s record doesn’t necessarily mean disciplinary action is called for. She says it may be that the settlement was reached to save legal costs.

That may be a valid point in a case where a doctor has only one or two malpractice claims on record. But health care industry officials say doctors with more settlements than that are rare and are probably worth being put under greater scrutiny.

Of course, even if such scrutiny is initiated, considering the level of secrecy that seems to prevail, it might be legitimate to ask whether the boards’ determinations are trustworthy.

Source: The Kansas City Star, “Bad Medicine: Doctors with many malpractice payments keep clean licenses,” Alan Bavley, May 16, 2014