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Unintended Consequences of Illinois Patients' Right To Know Act

May 23, 2011

The Illinois General Assembly recently passed the "Patients' Right to Know Act." If signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn, as expected, this Act will provide Illinois patients access to a database of valuable information on Illinois doctors. Run by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the database will include information on whether a doctor has been fired, convicted of a crime, and/or made medical malpractice payment in the last five years. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I believe the bill can greatly benefit Illinois patients by allowing them to make more informed decision surrounding their choice of doctors. However, I fear there may be some important unintended consequences.

The first unintended consequence of the Patients Right to Know Act concerns the medical payment disclosure requirement and its adverse impact on medical malpractice settlement. Specifically, doctors who are defendants in Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits will have an even greater reluctance to agree to settlement, even if they know they were likely negligent and their negligence injured their patient. For example, many physicians may refuse settlement because they would feel embarrassment if their fellow doctors and current patients learned they settled a medical lawsuit. In addition, doctors may refuse to settlement fearing it could cause many of their current patients to leave their practice. Likewise, doctors considering settlement may also be concerned about loosing out on new patients if these potential patients learned the doctor they were considering settled a medical malpractice lawsuit in the last five years.

The second unintended consequence of the Patients Right to Know Act concerns the public disclosure of termination and its potential of unfairly tarnishing a doctor' reputation. Like doctors, other Illinois workers have been fired without having done anything wrong. Others have been fired for making an honest mistake, despite being an excellent worker. Still others have been fired for good cause, learned from their mistaken, and never made the same one again. In many instances, these workers went on to be exceptional employees in their respective careers. Few if any had to endure the challenge of their termination being disclosed to the public at large. For these reasons, I hope the reputations of good doctors are not unfairly damaged by a termination that, as a practical matter, has no bearing on the quality of care they provide their patients. So, while the Patient Right to Know Act arms Illinois citizens with valuable information on which to assess doctors, citizens should be careful not to draw a broad conclusions that may be unwarranted. After all, many of the best doctors in the country have made medical mistakes and may have also been terminated at one time or another. They are human and should not be summarily branded just for being human.

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