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Quality of Doctor Care Must be Disclosed

Medicare Patients Must Be Told of Results of Investigations into Doctor Errors

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- June 27, 2003 -- The government must disclose the results of its investigations into Medicare patients' complaints about the quality of their medical care, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled. The results of investigations cannot be kept secret even if the doctor involved refuses to consent to the disclosure. Such secrecy would violate the Peer Review Improvement Act, according to the Court.

The case arose because of a complaint filed by David Shipp related to his wife's care at Baptist East Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. The Peer Review Organization (PRO) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began an investigation into the conduct of three doctors. However, it refused to tell Shipp the results of two of the investigations because the doctors did not consent to these disclosures.

The consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, successfully sued on behalf of Mr. Shipp in a district court. "At a minimum, the PRO must disclose its determination as to whether the quality of services that the recipients received met professionally recognized standards of health care," the Court of Appeals said in affirming the lower district court decision. "The provisions of the PRO manual prohibiting disclosure of the result of investigations are invalid because they are contrary to law."

"The decision is a victory for Medicare patients who are the victims of substandard medical care," Amanda Frost, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said about the Court of Appeals ruling (Press Release, June 30, 2003). "People who have personally been harmed, or whose family members have been harmed, deserve to know what came of their complaint."

You may view the complete text of the decision, known as Public Citizen, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the web site of the U.S. Court of Appeals. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to access the text. If you do not already have the software installed on your computer, you may download a free copy. For information about medical negligence and your legal rights, please feel free to contact the attorneys at Brayton Purcell, either through this web site or at our offices.

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