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Kaiser, OHSU will release data on malpractice
Medical errors - The health care providers change course under pressure to help Oregon better track problematic doctors' records
Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kaiser Permanente Northwest and Oregon Health & Science University agreed Wednesday to send state regulators information on past malpractice lawsuits against their doctors.

The policy reversal by two of Oregon's biggest health care players will help fill a decade-plus gap in the state's ability to track malpractice records.

In Kaiser's case, the missing reports cover a 12-year period starting in 1991, when the HMO stopped sending malpractice data to the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. Kaiser maintained that a wording change in a 1991 state law exempted it -- a position disputed by the state Insurance Division, which proposed the change.

OHSU voluntarily began reporting malpractice claims to the board in September after not doing so since 1987. The medical board had tried for years to persuade OHSU to file such reports, according to Executive Director Kathleen Haley.

A two-part series in The Oregonian this month showed how Kaiser and OHSU avoided reporting malpractice claims for more than a decade, despite state laws intended to require such notification.

The issue is particularly timely because it could have led to earlier action in the high-profile case of former Kaiser surgeon Dr. Jayant M. Patel, whose practice was restricted by Kaiser in 1998 and who was found negligent by state regulators in 2000. Patel's patients sued Kaiser at least eight times between 1993 and 1998, but Kaiser reported none of those lawsuits to the medical board.

The state medical board uses malpractice claims and settlements as one tool to identify potentially dangerous doctors. Malpractice reports triggered about one in 10 of the board's 313 investigations of doctors last year.

"We believe this is the right thing to do to help restore and maintain the trust of our members and the public," said Cynthia Finter, Kaiser regional president, in a Kaiser statement announcing the agreement to report retroactively.

Dr. Andrew Lum, executive medical director of Northwest Permanente, the physicians group that contracts with Kaiser in the Portland area, said reporting the 12 years of missing malpractice data "is vital to reinforcing the trust so necessary in our physician-patient relationships."

Finter and Lum declined to comment further Wednesday on why Kaiser changed its mind about reporting the missing data, saying the four-paragraph official statement speaks for itself.

Kaiser spokesman Jim Gersbach said it is not known how many malpractice reports will be included in the 12 years of retroactive reporting, and he declined to estimate how many such reports Kaiser voluntarily sent last year to the board. He said Kaiser will compile and report the data "as quickly as possible."

Since 2004, Kaiser has voluntarily reported malpractice claims against its doctors to the medical board. It continues to report all disciplinary actions against its doctors, as required by law.

OHSU said Wednesday that it also will fill in gaps in its malpractice reporting.

"We would be happy to work with the Board of Medical Examiners on any request it may have," Janet Billups, OHSU legal counsel, said in a statement through spokeswoman Marlys Pierson.

Asked whether that means OHSU will comply with the board's request for past malpractice reports, Pierson said: "Yes, it will be done. Our folks are already working on it."

Investigations could follow

The Board of Medical Examiners requested the missing malpractice data in a letter sent last week to Kaiser Permanente, OHSU and Legacy Health System. The board also notified all Oregon state legislators of its request.

"As soon as this information comes to us, we will immediately begin reviewing it to determine any investigations that need to be initiated," said a Nov. 9 letter to legislators signed by Dr. Joseph Thaler, board chairman, and Haley. After The Oregonian's report, Republican and Democratic lawmakers said they would introduce bills to ensure that malpractice claims against all Oregon doctors be reported.

The board pledged to make the malpractice information available to the public by telephone, letter or Web site. It also decided to eliminate the $10 fee previously charged to patients for copies of malpractice information involving a doctor.

Legacy Health System, which employs or contracts with about 200 doctors, has never reported malpractice cases directly to the medical board. The reporting law doesn't cover Legacy because it insures its own doctors.

Spokeswoman Lisa Wood said Wednesday that Legacy officials are carefully reviewing the Board of Medical Examiners' letter and have not decided whether to comply with its request to report malpractice claims voluntarily.

Don Colburn: 503-294-5124;

2005 The Oregonian

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