State panel: Public deserves more information about physician misconduct

Lawmakers to propose bills that would provide more information on malpractice cases, discipline in other states.

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Robert Leach serves as the executive director of the 16-member Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. The board held one of its quarterly board meetings in January in Minneapolis

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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A state board that regulates Minnesota's 20,000 physicians should provide consumers with more information about malpractice judgments, criminal convictions and disciplinary actions taken against doctors by other states, a legislative commission said Friday.

The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice also should be given the responsibility and authority to conduct criminal background checks on all physicians, according to the 12-member Sunset Advisory Commission, appointed last fall to regularly review the performance of state agencies, councils and commissions.

"There are good doctors who do a very, very good job, whose reputations can be tarnished by a few bad apples," said commission chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican House member from Big Lake. "We want to protect the good practitioners but we also want to see that unqualified practitioners are sent packing."

The panel's recommendations come less than a month after a Star Tribune investigation raised questions about the state medical board's record for disciplining physicians and its lack of transparency in providing information about problem practitioners to the public.

The investigation showed that Minnesota lags behind many states in making information available to people who want to check into the backgrounds of their doctors.

For example, Minnesota does not provide information on malpractice judgments or settlements, information that is increasingly easy to find on websites maintained by medical boards in 19 states.

Minnesota also doesn't disclose on its website whether doctors have been disciplined by regulators in other states or lost their privileges to work in hospitals and other facilities for surgical mistakes and other problems -- information provided in 13 states.

Kiffmeyer said the legislative panel's recommendations, which she will introduce next week as part of a House bill, are "very, very strong" and "pushes them very hard in a balanced sort of way." The recommended changes also would apply to all other state licensing boards that oversee health care workers.

Another bill is in the works

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chairman of the Health and Human Services Finance committee, said this week that he also is drafting a bill that would mirror some of the recommendations of the Sunset Commission and require licensing boards to provide more information to the public.

Abeler said the most difficult piece of the legislation involves how much malpractice information should be put on the medical board's website. Abeler said he was "comfortable" with reporting malpractice judgments or jury awards, but uneasy about posting out-of-court settlements.

"Settlements are a whole different case," he said.

"In some cases, you might settle just to settle. It's not an indication at all of the quality of a doctor's work."

The Minnesota Medical Association could support more disclosure about physicians, depending on the specific requirements, said Dr. Robert Meiches, chief executive of the organization.

"We are interested in getting the right stuff out to folks so they can make the right choices," Meiches said.

"Disclosing information that isn't helpful to consumers because it is misleading or because it damages reputations doesn't make sense to us."

richm@startribune.com • 612-673-4425 howatt@startribune.com • 612-673-7192

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