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Times-Union: Cuomo budget cuts physician profile website

By Claire Hughes, March 6

A 15-year-old program that provides information on New York doctors, including malpractice lawsuits and disciplinary actions, is slated for elimination in Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s proposed state budget.

But consumer groups and key lawmakers are opposed to axing the state’s Physician Profile website and the underlying program that collects data on doctors statewide. They say they are puzzled by the timing of the administration’s proposal, as state officials and policymakers move toward greater transparency and increased access to health data as a way to improve quality and reduce costs.

“It’s ironic that the Cuomo administration that talks a lot about government openness is shutting down this program,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of New York Public Interest Research Group.

“If anything, they should be looking for ways to make it more useful and better known to the public,” said Art Levin, director of the New York City-based Center for Medical Consumers.

The estimated $1.2 million of savings to eliminate the program is “loose change” in the $141.6 billion state budget, Levin said.

Health committee chairmen in the Assembly and Senate agree with the consumer groups. Both legislative bodies will propose their own budgets, restoring funding for the website.

The governor’s budget proposal argues that since the launch of the state website (, information on doctors has been made available through well-known private sites, such as Healthgrades and WebMD.

But consumer advocates and lawmakers say data on the other sites is not as complete or as easy to find as the information on the Physician Profiles website. And having the state run the program means doctors can be required to share information they might not freely give to private organizations.

“There may be other websites with physician information out there, but the public has no way of judging the credibility of a particular site,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan.

Horner found out just how different the information on the sites can be when he tried to check the background of a Slingerlands neurosurgeon he consulted for back surgery. Healthgrades showed the doctor had no malpractice claims awarded in the last five years. But New York’s site showed two settlements for malpractice claims since 2007.

Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon, R-Long Island, said some private organizations use data from the state website, so shutting down the program would make the private sites less useful.

More than 33,000 people visited the Physician Profile site in January, according to the state Health Department. Many more would use it if the site were better advertised, consumer advocates said.

NYPIRG pushed for the state to require doctors to post a notice in their offices about the website, when the consumer group fought for the law establishing it 15 years ago, Horner said. That kind of notification would be even better today, he said, with many more people carrying cell phones who could access the site from the waiting room.

But the Medical Society of the State of New York, a lobby representing doctors, opposed that requirement and the provision did not make it into the law, Horner said.

A representative of the medical society did not respond to an email seeking comment Thursday afternoon. The organization’s main office in Long Island was closed due to a winter storm.