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A Doctor's Disciplinary-Action History Is at Your Fingertips


Let's say you need to pick a doctor within your health plan and you want to know if any of the ones you're considering ever were disciplined.

There's now a place to get an up-to-date list--pulled from all 50 states--of disciplinary actions taken against a particular doctor. But you're going to have to pay for that information, even if the doctor's record is clear.

The new resource is the Federal Physician Data Center (, launched in January by the nonprofit Federation of State Medical Boards, the umbrella group for all physician licensing agencies.

The database contains 117,000 state board actions taken against 35,000 doctors dating back to the early 1960s and, for some doctors, the 1940s.

All you need to provide is the doctor's name and address, plus a $9.95 fee for each one you want to learn about. If you pay with a credit card, you can have instant access to the information. If you send a cashier's check or money order, it will be mailed to you.

Why the fee (or fees if you're doing multiple searches) when states provide their information free?

"We charge because we have incurred lots of costs in bringing the information together from all of our member boards and consolidating it into a single database," said Dale Austin, interim chief executive of the Federation of State Medical Boards.

He noted that several commercial sites on the Internet charge $15 to $20 for information on a single doctor, but much of that information is limited.

"I'm not ashamed to say this is the best source of public board actions in a consolidated fashion," said Austin, who noted that the databank received 3,000 requests in its first three months. "This is the only place this exists."

In many states, you can go free to the state medical board's Web site, but the disciplinary information listed there can be sketchy and usually is limited to actions taken in that state.

That means if you're thinking about going to a doctor who may have faced a license suspension, revocation or other action elsewhere, you're out of luck unless you know which other states to check. And even if you do, you sometimes may not get the information because there may be a time limit on how long it remains online.

The national database fills in some of the gap between what individual states list and what can be found in the National Practitioner Data Bank, created by Congress more than a decade ago but closed to the public.

Although there has been vigorous debate on Capitol Hill about whether to open the National Practitioner Data Bank to public scrutiny, access remains restricted to physicians, medical boards, plaintiffs' attorneys, professional societies, hospitals and HMOs that check it before offering jobs to doctors. Organizations such as the American Medical Assn. contend that the data, which includes medical malpractice judgments and settlements that aren't available through the new public database, is too raw for the public to properly interpret.

The National Practitioner Data Bank, however, only began amassing doctor records in 1990. Another difference between the two data repositories is that the new site includes all public actions taken against a doctor, not just those relating to quality of care, Austin said.

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