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Documents on disciplined doctors shouldn’t be this hard to find online

Documents on disciplined doctors shouldn’t be this hard to find online

Picture of William Heisel

Broken links.

It’s understandable that as time moves on and websites expand and contract that some hyperlinks would no longer function.

But with the medical histories of physicians, there is a particularly troubling tendency for once useful information about a physician to go missing.

I wrote a post in my “Doctors Behaving Badly” series about Dr. Reinaldo de los Heros in September 2010. I linked to primary documents and oversight agency websites throughout the post.

Not quite six years later, of the 15 links to external websites in the story, all but four are broken. That’s why when Elizabeth Marquis found the post, she could not replicate my sleuthing to look into the physician who had prescribed her daughter medications prior to her daughter’s drug overdose. Instead, she had to write me and say, essentially, “Where do I look for answers?”

It shouldn’t be this hard.

For one, the federal government maintains the , which includes all kinds of disciplinary information, lawsuit information, and other details about medical provider histories. But health care lobbyists have successfully blocked the public from gaining access to this information from day one. Even when reporters have tried to use the anonymized data from the data bank to track down doctors, they have received threats from the government.

Secondly, the state oversight agencies themselves should make the information that they gather about physicians much easier to find and use. Here’s what happens when you try to trace the history of Reinaldo de los Heros in the five states where he has been licensed. I wrote about Maine last week. Here’s the situation in the other states:

Massachusetts

I wrote in 2010 that Massachusetts had a left hand/right hand problem:

The Massachusetts board provides no record of de los Heros in its searchable online database, even though its most recent disciplinary action is featured in the board's '.'

Today, the list itself no longer is available online. But, strangely, he now is included in the searchable online database. When you pull up his profile it says only that his license has “lapsed.” This is a shame because de los Heros was in Massachusetts when he was convicted of felony fraud. This should be the state that provides the best documentation of that case.

Maryland

The link in my original post to the Maryland Board of Physicians’ information about de los Heros is defunct. If you go there now, the board does, helpfully, note that he is currently under probation in Maine. But, again, no documents are provided.

New Hampshire

The one link I made to the Granite State’s medical board in my original post still works. When you follow the link, though, you find out only scant details. Something happened that led to , but it’s hard to know what or why:

Reinaldo de los Heros, M.D. License #61297/8/97 – Settlement Agreement. Surrender of license in lieu of disciplinary action based on conviction of a felony for Medicaid fraud.

Fraud? Was this for patients he did not see but billed for anyway? Was this for patients he did see but not for the things he billed for? What’s the story? We can’t find out here.

North Carolina

I gave North Carolina some kudos in 2010 for providing more information about de los Heros than other states:

In this case, the North Carolina Medical Board has to be applauded. Although the  are short on detail, they are the only documents available for disciplinary actions taken against de los Heros in the 1990s. For consumers and for reporters, it should not be so difficult to find a coherent and complete story about a physician who has practiced in five states and been investigated by at least two federal agencies.

Those documents from 1998 and from 1999 are still there, so I’m still applauding. At the same time, the documents have so little detail as to be more clues than evidence.

And here’s a silver lining that I should have noted in my last post. It appears that Maine has actually expanded the amount of information it makes available about doctors, including de los Heros. I wrote in my 2010 post that the Maine Board of Licensure in Medicine was almost antagonistic toward patients:

The  in Medicine makes it unnecessarily cumbersome to gain access to even the limited information it has on file. The board has taken at least five actions involving de los Heros' license since 2006, but only the documents related to the latest action can be found on the board's website. All of the details about the cases are kept secret.

Every link I made to the Maine actions is broken. But, as you may have read in my last post, there are now documents available from all of the actions taken against de los Heros. As in New Hampshire’s case, the documents are short on details and, in some cases, outright confusing. But this is still far better than some of the other states.

Is there an equivalent to the participation trophy for medical boards that meet the minimum requirement of giving the public a few scraps of information instead of a complete stone wall?

I still think we can do better.

[Photo by Surian Soosay via .]

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