Chicago's Buried Bodies Part 1: Illinois regulators make backgrounding doctors near-impossible

Published on
June 25, 2010

When I sent my last Doctors Behaving Badly post to my editor, she responded with a bunch of great questions:

How is it possible to take down a major database that most states have?

Does this mean no one can check their doctor online now?

Can the public still request information about a doctor the old-fashioned way (by calling and requesting fax or mail copy of a doc's record)? 

Can reporters still get the paperwork now or do they have to file a FOI request?

Trying to answer these questions made me realize how difficult it is for patients to screen their doctors, even in major population centers that should have the resources and the will to do things right.

The short answer is this. The Illinois Division of Professional Regulation dismantled its "Physician Profile" database and has done nothing to make that information readily available to consumers – or reporters – in any other form. The division did this right after the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a law that capped medical malpractice payments. Part of the profiles that used to be available was information about a doctor's malpractice payments.

What was left? A paltry License Lookup system that is not specific to physicians but instead greets consumers with a dizzying array of options. You are forced to select a type of licensed profession to search for a name, and there are 31 options just for the letter "A." Should you look for "doctor," "medical doctor," or "physician"? It's anyone's guess. If you guess "physician," you are correct, but your reward is still more options, five to be exact. And that's not counting the options for osteopathic doctors.

So what happens when you try punching a doctor's name in here?

Well, let's try the doctor who "behaved badly" from Wednesday's post. Dr. Levi-D'Ancona. I can hear some of my old computer-assisted reporting friends saying, "Wait a minute! There's an apostrophe in that name! The database will reject the query." And it did. No apostrophe? Still no go. Try just "Ancona." Doesn't work.

So the doctor who was the cause of the downfall of the state's physician profiling system remains a phantom.

On Monday: Is a multi-million-dollar malpractice judgment enough to get Illinois' attention?