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Medical board votes to post malpractice records online

Wednesday's decision means malpractice judgments over a seven-year period that are greater than $25,000 will be posted to physicians' and physician assistants' profiles.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Medical Board voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of adding medical providers' malpractice judgments and settlements to its Web site.

Since 2001, the medical board has posted basic professional and licensing information about physicians and physician's assistants, as well as any charges, allegations and disciplinary action the medical board has taken against them.

Wednesday's decision means malpractice judgments and settlements over a seven-year period that are greater than $25,000 will also be posted to profiles. Information on payments less than $25,000 will not be collected for public purposes.

Twenty-five other state medical boards already make malpractice awards available to patients online.

But North Carolina's plan would not include payments before Oct. 1, 2007 – the date a law went into effect that requires the additional information to be posted online.

"We felt the public did have a right to know more," said Dr. Jan Rhyne, the medical board's president. "We are seeing this as one way to regain the public trust, but also, we are trying to be transparent."

The board came under fire several years ago for its handling of several cases in other parts of the state. Critics claimed the board "protects" doctors.

It initially proposed putting all malpractice judgment and settlements online but opponents argued that doctors settle malpractice claims for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of medical care. Posting that information could be misconstrued, they argued.

"We think they should just put on the Web site the ones where the physician was at fault," said Dr. Hadley Callaway, president of the North Carolina Medical Society, which represents the interests of more than 12,000 doctors across the state.

"Where it was a disagreement between physician and patient on treatment, it should not be on the Web site."

Other information about providers would also be posted, including disciplinary actions by other medical boards, felony convictions and misdemeanors and whether a provider has had his or her hospital privileges revoked.

Callaway said that could mean future complications.

"We think it discourages new physicians from coming to the state of North Carolina," he said. "It discourages physicians who are here taking care of difficult patients."

Next, the plan must go before the North Carolina Rules Review Commission, possibly in August., Jean Fisher Brinkley, the medical board's public affairs director, said.

If at least 10 opponents file letters with the commission, the proposal would then go to the General Assembly.

It could be in place as early as fall 2009, but could be delayed if there is opposition.