Malpractice Database Access Urged

A California man whose wife died during cosmetic surgery in 1997 urged Congress today to open a secret government database that tracks disciplinary actions and malpractice payments by physicians and other health-care providers.

Testifying before the House Commerce Committee, Ruben Fernandez said his wife would not have chosen Dr. William Earle Matory Jr. to perform a face lift, liposuction and other procedures if she had known that he had been sued for malpractice four times previously.

“I firmly believe if I had been provided access to the National Practitioner Data Bank, it would have saved the life of my beloved Judy,” he said.

The California Medical Board ultimately ruled that Matory had been “grossly negligent and incompetent” in the death of Judy Fernandez and revoked his license.

Victimized by Lack of Information Fernandez was joined at today’s hearing by two other medical malpractice victims who told lawmakers they had been victimized by doctors because they had no way of discovering adverse information in their backgrounds.

Such information is maintained in the National Practitioner Data Bank, which was created by a 1986 federal law that requires insurance companies, hospitals and state and federal regulators to report malpractice payments and disciplinary actions against all health-care providers.

But the law prohibits public disclosure of identities of the providers, limiting access to insurance companies, hospitals and federal and state health regulators.

An Associated Press review of the public version of the data bank — with the names removed — found that nearly 500 doctors and dentists across the country have been slapped with at least 10 disciplinary actions and malpractice payments over the past decade.

The New York Daily News, The Hartford Courant and the AP also have used the public version of the database and court records to identify doctors with large numbers of malpractice payments or disciplinary actions.