Enabling Dr. Death
The O took the local medical profession out to the woodshed over the weekend. The paper started with a story about the infamous Jayant Patel, a.k.a. Dr. Death (Motto: "At Kaiser Permanente, he thrived"). But this caromed into an expose of how a state law that was supposed to put medical malpractice claims on the public record with the licensing authorities in Salem has been a complete bust. The reason: The boys and girls at Kaiser and Oregon Health and Science University read the law as not applying to them.
It was a pretty extensive pair of articles, hard-hitting and full of important details. Still, not every perspective was considered. Left out, for example, was any reminder of the fact that this is the same esteemed group that tried to sell Oregon voters Ballot Measure 35 a while back. That measure would have limited patients' rights to sue for damages for pain and suffering and other emotional distress when guys like Dr. Death ruin them for life. That sales job actually almost succeeded. You read stories like the recent ones in the O, and you shake your head wondering how that initiative almost passed.
In any event, I'm not going to pile on with criticism of the weaselly moves of the OHSU and Kaiser folks. The O story took a pretty good whack at them, and the reaction elsewhere is along the same lines. What intrigues me as much is the story line being spun out by the folks at the state Board of Medical Examiners. They're denying that they intentionally looked the other way while Kaiser failed to report the malpractice claims against its docs. No, the regulators say, it's just that they never noticed:
But the two state agencies responsible for collecting the reports and enforcing the law paid scant attention to compliance through the 1990s, an investigation by The Oregonian found. And when regulators eventually pushed Kaiser and OHSU to report, the health system and university dragged their heels and argued the laws didn't apply to them.Nine years with no malpractice claims reported by Kaiser, and nobody in Salem noticed? Sure.
The Board of Medical Examiners did not learn until 2000 that Kaiser had quit filing reports nine years earlier. Kaiser's explanation for doing so, regulators now assert, was based on an erroneous reading of the law.
In any event, it's time for the foolishness to stop. The law should be amended, as early as possible next session, to make sure that all malpractice claims, of any size, filed against anyone practicing medicine in Oregon are reported to the state, and immediately made available to the public on the internet. The accused, of course, should be given an opportunity to respond, as people are now allowed to do on their credit reports. But the information should be there for patients' and prospective patients' review.
The loophole that outfits like Legacy enjoy, and that outfits like OHSU and Kaiser think they enjoy, should be eliminated. If there's a doctor out there who's butchering people, as Dr. Death allegedly did, the fine print on his or her employer's corporation papers should have nothing to do with how much the public learns about it.
And no, I'm not forgetting the lawyers. The same rules should apply to them. As well as to accountants, architects, veterinarians, nurses, and any other member of a profession licensed by the state. Consumers are smarter than professionals and their regulators like to admit. Giving consumers the information will eventually result in smarter choices and better practices.