Some doctors in Texas have compiled an online database of malpratice plaintiffs. They intended this as a service for doctors who want to avoid taking on litigious patients. Since the database does not distinguish between patients who filed frivolous lawsuits and patients who won well-deserved victories in court, it provides the New York Times with an opportunity to remind us why we have malpractice law in the first place:
Among other people listed were Dolores and Ricardo Romero of Humble, Tex. In 1998, Mrs. Romero said, her husband, then 40, went into the hospital to have a herniated disk repaired. The operation went awry and he nearly bled to death on the operating table, suffering serious brain damage. Now, he can barely walk or see and needs help feeding himself and using the toilet.
The Romeros’s lawsuit revealed that the surgeon, Dr. Merrimon Baker, was addicted to painkillers, had once left a surgical sponge inside a patient, and on other occasions operated on the wrong hip and amputated the wrong leg. The jury, finding that the hospital acted with malice since it knew of the doctor’s history, awarded the Romeros $40.9 million. A higher court overturned the malice finding and an appeal is pending.
Dr. Baker, who is practicing outside Houston, did not respond to a message left with his office.
As a believer in the Transparent Society, I suppose this kind of thing is inevitable. Patients (in Massachusetts, at least) can consult a public database of what doctors have lost malpractice suits, so perhaps it’s only fair that doctors can consult a public database of what patients have filed malpractice suits. But I want to know which doctors have been using that database, so I can take my business to the ones who avoid lawsuits the old-fashioned way, by doing their job right. As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant.