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A recent U.S. District Court ruling may help shed some light on doctors’ experience levels in their respective disciplines. The L.A. Times has reported that the ruling, which resulted from a consumer group’s lawsuit to open up the Medicare database, may result in the release of files and billing information for 700,000 doctors. This information could be used to track doctors’ performance and experience levels. According to the article:

Those files could reveal far more than how many times a year a surgeon performs a hip replacement operation. The data could also be analyzed to determine how a doctor makes crucial decisions on tests and procedures that determine both quality and costs. They would show which doctors fail to order prudent preventive tests. And they could indicate which ones order duplicative tests or unnecessary hospitalizations.

Hopefully, the Medicare data can be synthesized in such a way that it will be accessible and comprehensible for consumers so that they can make informed decisions based on a physician’s experience level and rates of error for various procedures. Given the current lack of transparency for data concerning physician experience, this type of information should be helpful and may reduce repeat medical errors and incidents of malpractice by rewarding physicians with good track records with increased business. The Medicare data could be useful to establish informed consent for patients seeking information about a particular procedure. Some court decisions (such as the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision Johnson by Adler v. Kokemoor, 199 Wis.2d 615, 545 N.W.2d 495 (1996)) hold that a patient’s informed consent may require a surgeon to disclose his experience with a procedure and the availability of specialists with greater experience. It is uncertain at this point whether the Department of Health and Human Services will appeal the ruling, or how and when the data may be made available to the public.

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