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Body Watch

The High-Tech Way to Find Out About Your Doctor-to-Be

March 05, 1997|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Want to examine your doctor before he or she examines you? Now you can.

Medi-Net, based in Carlsbad, taps into a computer database to provide instant professional profiles, including disciplinary actions, on any doctor licensed to practice in the United States.

The object is to help patients make informed choices about their doctors, said Dr. Nicholas J. Soldo of Phoenix, an anesthesiologist and former chairman of the Arizona State Medical Board, who co-founded the new service.

"We have a massive databasing capability," said Soldo of his company, which has the first-ever contract with the American Medical Assn. to use its database. "It literally took us two years to get all this information compiled."

A caller to the toll-free line will receive the doctor's education, residency locations, credentials and board certifications. The report also includes a listing of all disciplinary actions for negligence or incompetence taken against the physician by any state medical board across the country. The profile is faxed or mailed to the caller and updated for the next 12 months with any new disciplinary actions. The cost is $15.

It's a sign of changing times that such a service is necessary, said Soldo, who began his practice as a family doctor 36 years ago in a small town where everybody knew him.

With the growth of HMOs and other managed care networks, consumers today increasingly find themselves picking blindly from a list of available doctor names.

"We have AMA information from everyone ever licensed to practice, both dead and alive," said marketing director Howie Watkin. "If someone tries to assume a dead doctor's identity--and you'd be surprised how often that happens--we know it."

In addition to callers seeking personal information, Medi-Net is also hearing from companies choosing medical plans, law offices that handle malpractice suits and insurance companies that deal with HMOs.

What the service does not do, Watkin said, is recommend doctors, even though callers sometimes request that.

The information Medi-Net is selling, he emphasized, is public. "But to get it yourself, you'd have to contact the AMA, all 50 state medical boards, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services."

Most of the reports are favorable, Watkin said. "Only 3% to 4% of U.S. doctors are disciplined, but it is the public's right to know who they are."

* Medi-Net's toll-free service, (888) 275-6334 or (800) 972-6334, is available from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Reports also can be ordered via the Internet at http://www.askmedi.com, which also serves as a forum for discussion of medical negligence.

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