Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Doctors' incompetence and your right to know

The ABC television program presented by Four Corners on Monday night, First Do No Harm brought to attention a long running saga at Canberra Hospital concerning the competence of the former head of the neurology department, and what has happened to another doctor at the hospital who acted to bring the issue to the attention of the authorities. It also showed some of the tragic results of failed surgical procedures.

The program also raised prominently the public right to know about the skills and experience of those in medical practice who are involved in high stakes surgery of this kind. Other medical practitioners knew to steer people clear of this particular surgeon, and the then Minister for Health was prompted to call for a full investigation when he learned a member of the hospital board was going to Sydney rather than risk treatment at Canberra Hospital.

The doctor concerned has since retired, but satisfactory arrangements for return to work by the doctor who acted in the patients interests, remain unresolved.

There are some big issues here. Hopefully the medical profession and others will keep this issue in the limelight.

Coincidentally in the US last week, a Federal judge in Washington ruled that records of claims made by doctors on the Federal Medicare program, (presumably without the patients' names and details) must be disclosed to a consumer publication which sought them under the Freedom of Information Act. The Justice Department opposed release on the grounds that it could invade doctors privacy by making their income public. The judge said those concerns were minimal and outweighed by the public interest in disclosure. For good measure the judge said the information should be made available without charge, rejecting the $20,000 fee Medicare sought to impose.

It turns out that the Freedom of Information applicant Consumer's CheckBook, sees access to these records as a way of assessing how many times individual doctors have billed Medicare for major, high risk procedures, in order to gauge their experience levels. Eventually it hopes to add other data in order to give a more complete picture.

"It's hard to get information on doctors. This will be a valuable and important thing", said the President of CheckBook.

Tell it to former patients at Canberra Hospital.

No comments:

Post a Comment