While there are a number of resources available to those who wish to file complaints against doctors in Arizona and other states, obtaining information about complaints that have previously been lodged is often difficult. Consumer Reports looked into physician errors ranging from surgical mistakes to sexual misconduct, and it found that only a select group have access to these records.
Complaints about doctor errors and misconduct are kept in a database known as the National Practitioner Data Bank, and few outside law enforcement, the insurance industry and the medical community have access to it. This database includes information such as the disciplinary measures taken against doctors and the amount of any medical malpractice awards. A patient safety advocate working on behalf of Consumer Reports discovered that roughly half of all of the malpractice awards since 1990 involved mistakes made by less than 2 percent of the nation's doctors.
While patients may feel that they have the right to know about complaints filed against physicians, the American Medical Association and state medical boards have consistently opposed measures that would grant them access to the data. They say that sensitive information could mislead patients and harm the relationships that they enjoy with their physicians, and they also claim that granting access to these records would place an unnecessary burden on the health care industry.
The Consumer Reports report reveals that a small fraction of America's doctors have been responsible for billions in medical malpractice awards. That such a large number of costly mistakes were at least partly caused by such a small number of the nation's doctors shows how effectively the health care and insurance industries are able to protect physicians, but it also shows how vigorously medical malpractice attorneys may advocate on behalf of their clients.