Health experts have long pointed to increased transparency as a way of eliminating medical errors and reducing healthcare-associated infections, not to mention making patients aware of potential risks. In the past year, this blog has published two articles about programs aimed at making this goal a reality across the country. In New York State, however–which currently has a system in place for holding doctors accountable–this mission is being threatened.
According to Watchdog.org, the database nydoctorprofile.com went online in 2000 after the publication of an exposÃ© in the New York Daily News. The article not only released information about the most-sued doctors in the state–including “one surgeon who had been sued 32 times over ten years and paid out $3.9 million to 24 patients”–but also noted how difficult it was at the time for patients to access such essential information. The site now hosts a great deal of information about practitioners: their educational backgrounds, hospital affiliations, board certifications, specialties, details about insurance and Medicaid acceptance, court judgments, criminal convictions, and loss of licenses or other privileges. Moreover, if a doctor lies about any of the statistics on his or her page, he or she can be charged with misconduct.
After being launched by former Governor George Pataki, current Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to take the site offline, citing concerns over the cost of its maintenance. His office has reported that deactivating the database would save taxpayers about $1.2 million. It goes without saying, but patients’ rights groups, healthcare watchdog organizations, and many concerned citizens oppose this move. A member of the New York Public Interest Research Group, explains, “I don’t know what the agenda of the administration is, but making it harder for people to make life-and-death decisions makes no sense to me.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo’s office had this to say in defense of the administration’s position: “The website was a groundbreaking tool when it was first created, but this information is now readily available in several different places. Maintaining the state-run website is not only duplicative, but also a waste of taxpayer resources.” Cuomo has explained that private sites like WebMD and apps like ZocDoc provide ratings for doctors, but that such platforms rarely publicize negative outcomes or complaints from patients. Moreover there is no penalty for lying or misrepresenting oneself on private sites.
Watchdog.org says that those who support the site do so because it centralizes all available information in one place, has existing name recognition, and is accessible to speakers of many different languages (which is especially important in places like New York City). Many of these individuals also complain that $1.2 million is a small price to pay for information about one’s doctors, especially considering that New York’s budget in 2014 totaled about $142 billion. (In other words, this site occupies about .00084 percent of the state’s yearly funds.)