Thursday, March 6, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The public’s trust in doctors has been shaken, if not shattered, by the stunning news last week that a busy surgery center violated basic hygiene procedures, leading to the potential spread of hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases.
The Southern Nevada Health District has linked six hepatitis C cases to the now-closed Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and recommended that 40,000 people undergo testing. The center’s managers have been accused of ordering staff to use syringes and vials of anesthesia more than once to save money. Doing so allowed the spread of diseases among patients.
On Tuesday state health officials issued a statement encouraging surgery patients to ask questions about their doctors’ hygiene policies before undergoing procedures. It turns our stomach to think that we need to ask the doctor during our next visit whether he is sterilizing his instruments and using needles and syringes only once.
That, however, leads us to wonder what else, as patients, we should be asking about. Patients put their trust in doctors and nurses all the time and typically with good reason, but the endoscopy scandal shows us that patients need to be better consumers.
But being a good consumer can be difficult given the complexity of modern medicine, which can be daunting to the layperson, and the constraints of medical insurance, which often limits treatment options. With all the information on the Internet, it is difficult to discern what is reliable, and important information — such as a doctor’s background and track record — is often unavailable.
As consumers, patients need better information. Detailed information about doctors, nurses and other medical providers, including the specific nature of complaints and malpractice judgments against them, should be easily accessible on the Internet. So should inspection reports of hospitals, surgery centers and other medical facilities.
Unfortunately, the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners had malpractice judgments taken off its Web site three years ago, on the grounds that state law does not specifically require that judgments be posted online. The board acted disgracefully and was merely protecting physicians who complained that the judgments made them look bad.
If the board won’t do the right thing, then the Legislature should change the law to force the board to make such information readily accessible online. That would be a step toward protecting the public health and restoring the public’s trust.