Public's easier access to disciplinary action raises due process questions

July 13, 2011

State medical boards and legislatures are responding to public demands that information about disciplinary action against physicians be timely and easy to get by publishing disciplinary, criminal, and liability histories online. But what about the physicians' rights?

State medical boards and legislatures are responding to public demands that information about disciplinary action against physicians be timely and readily available by publishing disciplinary, criminal and liability histories online. But what about the physicians’ rights-especially to constitutionally guaranteed protections such as due process?

At least five states have recently passed or are considering legislation calling for the release of negative information about physicians. Some are also crafting language that calls for quicker response to requests for investigation of medical professionals.

Most state medical licensing boards require physicians to report liability settlements and criminal convictions. But what the boards make available on their public Web sites varies widely.

A 2007 report by the Federation of State Medical Boards found that 65 boards (including separate osteopathic boards in many states) provide physician profiles on their Web sites and 56 post data on board-related disciplinary histories. Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia also include information about felony convictions, actions of other state medical boards, and certain liability claims. Lawmakers in Missouri and Texas are considering legislation that would require expanded information on the Web sites of their medical boards. Washington’s governor just signed a law requiring its licensing body to be more responsive to complaints about a physician.

Those who support greater transparency say that while most physicians are ethical, it’s good for patients to be able to identify those few who are not. Opponents say laws like those pending now or already on the books in many states could disrupt a physician’s right to due process.

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