Sunday, March 9, 2008 | 3 a.m.
If you want to know whether any doctor has a history of medical malpractice claims or settlements, don’t look for answers on the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners Web site, medboard.nv.gov.
You can get the information if you telephone the board. But you can’t get it online.
It wasn’t always like that. Until three years ago the medical board put malpractice reports of individual physicians on the site. But citing a 2003 state law aimed at restricting the contents of its Internet pages, the board voted in 2005 to remove that information on the premise that state law did not require posting the reports.
Dr. Stephen Montoya, then board president, said at that meeting that many physicians were concerned about the malpractice information on the Web site “because it makes them appear to be bad physicians,” according to the meeting minutes.
That decision was frowned upon by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen in Washington, which surveyed medical board Web sites in 2006. It gave a tip of the hat to Nevada’s osteopathic board and to the medical boards of 17 other states for giving consumers access to physicians’ malpractice reports by computer.
“Ideally, you want boards to give out as much information as they can to consumers,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the organization’s Health Research Group.
The Nevada State Board of Osteopathic Medicine got Public Citizen’s approval because, until three weeks ago, that board posted the malpractice information on its licensees on its Web site. But it had to remove those reports to correct numerous errors. Not to worry. The board’s executive administrator, Catryna Kelly, said the information is expected to be back on the Internet within three months.
Kelly said her board considers it a public service to put as much information as possible on its Web site regarding osteopathic physicians.
Las Vegas Dr. Javaid Anwar, president of the State Medical Examiners Board, and fellow board member Donald Baepler both said malpractice claims and settlements are misleading barometers of a physician’s competence. Insurance companies often will settle malpractice claims for hundreds of thousands of dollars even if the doctor wasn’t really at fault to avoid the possibility of losing millions of dollars at trial, Baepler said.
And Anwar said a physician with only one malpractice case could have been involved in a far more egregious situation than a doctor with 10 claims.
“The number of lawsuits is not a good way to judge how good a physician is,” Anwar said. “Sometimes they simply go after the doctor with the deepest pockets.”