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March 05, 2004


Without any effort at all to sort out legitimate claims--and there are many; malpractice happens--I think it's really troubling. I cannot believe the AMA would see no ethical problems with the possibility that someone gets lousy treatment, suffers greatly, and then winds up on a blacklist because he wants to be compensated.

Do the same patients tend to sue multiple times? If so, it's easy enough to start listing people when they file their second suit. If not, I don't see any purpose except for intimidation--which would be, if perfectly legal, not so much in keeping with the Hippocratic oath.

"Legal Eagle with no Life"

Don't make me initiate a virtual group hug, "Legal Eagle": I'm a Republican, remember? We're stereotypically bad at that sort of thing. :)


PS: Thanks for your take on the question.

I wouldn't really say I'm really for it (at least those involved in a single lawsuit, anyway), just not suprised that it happened. People who file multiple lawsuits I would have less sympathy for, as they are more likely trolling for dollars as opposed to real victims.

Doctors are getting slammed from two ends simultaneously - their medical malpractice premiums are going up, while their reimbursement rates from health plans is going down. So, naturally, they are lashing out, and trying ever kind of crazy scheme out there to try to hurt somebody - from caps on malpractice awards, to venue restrictions, to this silly stunt. The thing they neglect, of course, is that it's the insurance companies who are screwing them. The docs will be mighty surprised when they finally implement all this draconian anti-patient nonsense and then ... their malpractice premiums keep going up.

My civil litigation instructor told us that there were databases used by plaintiff and defense counsel to keeping track of things such as expert witnesses, how often a particular defendant has been sued, and how often someone had filed a suit. This is the first time I’ve seen a story about one for a physician though.

I agree with the AMA, there really isn’t an ethical issue here at all provided that the information is accurate. I’m also not surprised that it’s legal since the information they’re gathering (names of parties, amounts of settlements if disclosed, etc.) are pretty much all a matter of public record.

If it’s okay for a patient to want to know if a physician has been sued, it seems only fair for a doctor to be able to find out if the person seeking treatment has a history of suing their doctor. Granted filing a lawsuit (or being sued) is not prima face evidence of a frivolous lawsuit (or malpractice) but it could be a useful starting point to make that determination.

Define history? Is it sueing once? Twice? Does it matter whether the suits are warranted or not? If such a list were to make those kinds of distinctions, I don't know that I'd have a huge problem with it. It doesn't sound like this list does, though.

I dunno 'bout this. What I can say is that doctors ain't the only ones sharing information. Plaintiffs' attorneys do it to -- there's a virtual class action clearinghouse that lets one plaintiffs' firm access records from another plaintiffs' firm to plot their next case.

Private databases like this have been around for years. 15 years ago, my ex used to work in an apartment office and they used to check up on prospective tenants. Some enterprising person entered all the eviction filings they found in the newspapers. Perhaps someone named J. Doe from NY had eviction proceedings filed against them. As a result, any person with a similar name, from the same state would be denied an apartment. Did it lead to rejecting applicants who were NOT the offender? Yes. Did the apartment manager care? No. They did not want to care, they did not have to.

I came across something similar when renting an apartment this year. My credit stinks due to being out of work for 18 of the last 30 months. So when the apartment ran a credit check, you could smell it about a mile upwind. As a result, I had to pay upfront 6 months rent on a 12 month lease. So I did.

Some companies are using credit reports to decide who is worth hiring. Bad idea, unless the person is handling money. I predict some nasty lawsuits in the future over this. Poor credit very rarely affects ability to perform in the workplace.

Over the years, I have come across other databases that are used to exclude people from getting insurance or other services. Did you get in a car accident? Guess what, there is a database that insurance companies use. Did you sue someone, or get sued? You are in another database. There have been some stalkers that used databases, including DMVs, to hunt down their prey. You can find almost anything you want, about someone, for under a couple hundred dollars on the internet.

This leads to what is now called "the David Nelson Problem." There was a crook, who went by the alias of Dave Nelson. His name was entered into the passenger screening system. He was later caught and is behind bars. However, because it was an alias, there was no secondary identification in the database. And even though he is behind bars, there is no way that names can be removed from the CAPPS system. So every person named D. Nelson undergoes several extra hours of scrutiny every time they get onto a plane in the US. Fair? I think not.

As the other posters above pointed out, if the database tracked folks who were problems, there would be no real complaints. But since there is no way to know what the database holds, nor how accurate the data is, well, that is where the controversy is.

Part of the problem is that in the US, the keeper of the database is the owner of the data. In Europe, you are the owner of information about yourself. In the US, except for credit data, you have no legal right to correct any wrong or bogus data that is in someone's database. In europe, the opposite is true: if it is wrong, you can correct it. I had a part time job at a university financial aid department. Stacks of printouts (everday) were tossed into recycling bins with enough information to start your own database. I had thoughts about doing so. Name, dob, ssn, address, how much they got in financial aid, all the sorts of things you need to steal someone's credit, laying around. What could it have been used for? Perhaps marketing to students? Perhaps starting your own id theft ring? For over 2 years, that university kept hidden, news about a car theft ring that was stealing about 100 cars per school year. Would they have disclosed theft of other things?

Identity thefts will only lead to more David Nelson Problems. It may take a few big scandals with bad databases before the public decides in a different policy towards folks who keep data.

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