Consumers can now check up on thousands of doctors and chiropractors in Illinois, including accessing information about malpractice cases, thanks to a public database that went back online Wednesday.
The Physician Profile is available on the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's website, and allows patients to see whether a physician or chiropractor has been disciplined here or in another state. The searchable database includes about 46,000 doctors and 4,500 chiropractors, along with malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years.
The database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a medical malpractice reform law as unconstitutional.
A new law, the Patient Right to Know Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in August, reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the site's return.
"Selecting a physician is one of the most important decisions a family makes, and we want people to have the information they need to make the best choice," Quinn said in an email. "This website is an important tool to empower Illinois consumers by giving them online, easy-to-use access to information about our state's doctors."
The site also shows where a doctor went to school, whether he or she is taking new Medicare and Medicaid patients, and includes board certifications and number of years in practice.
Before it went dark in 2010, the website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly. The Illinois Medical Society took a neutral stand on the law that brought back the site, arguing that it should have been wrapped into larger legislation governing the practice of medicine.
Some attorneys said they were glad the site is back.
"I think it's great," said Chicago lawyer Jerry Latherow, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. "In this age of transparency, it only seems right that this information be available to patients. There's nothing more personal than our medical care. This gives patients the right to know about the background of their doctors so they can decide what the best physician is for them."
A national consumer group also praised Illinois for reinstating the database.
"We strongly favor transparency in the health care arena," said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group in Washington, D.C. "Having this information publicly available is better for patients."
Public Citizen ranks states by how frequently their medical boards take serious disciplinary actions against doctors. Illinois ranked 20th among states for disciplining doctors in the group's most recent report, Carome said. Illinois has improved since 2003, when it ranked 35th.
"We believe that the ranking that we do reflects how well and how diligent the state medical board is performing," Carome said. "The more actions they take, the more active, the more alert and the more diligent they are."