UPDATE: D.C. Health Department Building a Public Log of Physician Discipline

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The D.C. Health Department has begun publishing online the disciplinary action its medical board takes against physicians.

This month, officials began putting all medical board orders issued against physicians in the past 10 years on the department's Web site. Actions against about 100 doctors are now online, officials said.

"This is the first time we've done this," said Feseha Woldu, who oversees licensing of doctors and other health care professionals for the District's health department. "All of them or most of them should be up. Obviously, there is a need."

An estimated 9,000 physicians are licensed in the city, but only about 3,000 are practicing, Woldu said.

Until now, patients have had no easy way of checking the history of doctors in the District. Maryland, Virginia and nearly every other state have detailed Web sites where patients can learn if a physician has been disciplined or sued for malpractice.

The city has been working since 2002 to make disciplinary actions against doctors available online. But last spring, officials pledged to the D.C. Council Committee on Health that they would improve the system.

"We gave our word at the council hearing," Woldu said. "We told them we'd do it."

The hearings were held after a series of Washington Post articles reported that the D.C. medical board rarely disciplined troubled doctors and that when the board doled out discipline, it didn't publicize it, leaving patients guessing about the competence and history of their physicians.

Woldu said the department plans to make more information available online within the next six months, including discipline by other medical boards, felony convictions and payments for malpractice claims.

"This was a very dysfunctional system," Woldu said. "It takes time to build the system, and we're not done yet."

For information on physicians, go to http://www.doh.dc.gov and click on "professional licensing," then "Online Professional License Search."

-- Cheryl W. Thompson

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