Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Under a recently enacted New Jersey law, a state government Web site publishes doctors' malpractice histories. The Web site was authorized by the New Jersey Health Care Consumer Information Act, N.J.S.A. 45:9-22.21, and includes malpractice payments in the past five years as well as the medical school, licensing history, hospital privilege restrictions, disciplinary actions and other information about the state's more than 32,500 doctors, osteopaths and podiatrists.
Some lawyers report that the increased publicity may be having a chilling effect on settlements. "Doctors do not want to settle at all now that it has to be reported to the databank for any payment whatsoever," says defense lawyer Richard Amdur, who claims that he used to settle about a third of his cases but estimates that he now that number has declined to between 10 to 15 percent. Other lawyers claim that the publicity makes no difference. According to one defense attorney, the issue for doctors becomes the potential for an increase in premiums that follow a malpractice payout.
The Web sites missing information on some doctors appears to be a larger problem, however, for those who may choose to use and rely on it. According to a report in the New Jersey Law Journal, "The effect of the data gap is compounded by the comparison of each doctor's records with those of other doctors in the same specialty. Each doctor's malpractice experience is rated as average, above average or below average, so without complete data, a doctor might be categorized as above average because of missing data on peers."
It should be interesting to see how this web site eventually works or does not work. It may provide the consumer (and plaintiff's attorney) with some helpful information but it may also increase the cost of medical malpractice claims if individual doctors prefer to go to trial rather than have a new addition to their medical malpractice history.