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Tennessee's Doctor Profiles Missing Crucial Information

Posted at 8:53 PM, May 21, 2014
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:35:39-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Do you really know everything you should about your doctor?

State law says you have the right to know whether your doctor has been disciplined by a hospital or the state medical board.

But a NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered that the state's online profile of doctors is missing crucial information.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed problems with missing information seven years ago and now we've found more problems.

The state Health Department's website is supposed to be the place you can turn to get information about doctors. But it's up to the doctors to make sure that information is accurate. And, when they get in trouble, we found they're not always eager to update that information.

On Dr. David McCord's professional website, the Nashville spine surgeon focuses on how he treats patients' back pain.

What he doesn't mention there is that, according to a confidential document obtained by CBS News, McCord lost his privileges at Centennial Medical Center two years ago after Centennial's board of trustees concluded McCord was performing unnecessary surgeries.

But the public would never know that information by looking at McCord's online profile published by the Tennessee Health Department.

Under Tennessee's Health Care Right-To-Know Act, doctors are responsible for self-reporting any disciplinary or adverse actions taken against them. And that information is then posted on the doctor's public profile to help educate consumers.

"People are not getting the information they need," said Bill Mason of Tennessee Citizen Action.

He said he was especially concerned because what we found isn't new nor, as we discovered, is Dr. McCord's case an isolated problem.

"They probably need to do some kind of review of how they're doing their job," Mason told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Back in 2007, we discovered doctor's profiles were missing vital information.

Judy Eads with the state Health Department told us then, "I have no way of saying how many's fallen through the cracks."

And the Health Department admitted then it needed to do a better job.

Yet, we've now discovered the problems are continuing and go beyond Dr. McCord.

Take Dr. Khandaker Ahad. According to his own federal lawsuit, the VA Medical Center in Murfreesboro took away the ophthalmologist's "incisional, laser, and injection privileges" back in 2008. But, six years later, there's no mention on his profile that he's banned from doing surgery at the VA.

And in 2005, Dr. Stephen Williamson had his privileges suspended at a hospital in Little Rock for failing to get consults on complicated surgical cases and unprofessional conduct in the emergency and operating rooms. But that information is nowhere to be found on his profile.

Assistant Health Commissioner Michelle Long now oversees the practitioner profile database.

Long said after hearing our findings, "The commitment is there to make sure that the public has this information and can be well informed, and we do our best to make sure it's accurate information."

We asked her why profiles like the ones we discovered are not accurate.

"It's the practitioner's responsibility to keep that up to date," Long explained.

Yet, in Dr. McCord's case, we found the state did ask him to update his profile after he lost his privileges at Centennial. But McCord's attorney and the state disagreed over what needed to be disclosed. The two sides exchanged letters back in 2012.

But McCord's profile to this day has never been changed.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Long, "The state was aware almost two years ago that he should have reported it and has done nothing? So for almost two years, the public has not been aware of this?"

Long nodded and replied, "And we will look into that today."

Long said her office will also look into Dr. Ahad's case. His attorney told us Ahad did not have to report the restrictions of his surgical privileges because he's been appealing the VA's decision for the past six years and now is suing the VA. Yet all this time, the public has been left in the dark.

"All we can rely on to update their profile is what they submit to us directly," Long said.

Yet, with Dr. Williamson, his profile application shows he did report his privileges had been suspended. The Health Department now says it's discovered one of its employees failed to type that information in.

"This was not Dr. Williamson's fault? This was the state's fault?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Long.

"This was our fault. It was an error," she confirmed.

But Bill Mason with Tennessee Public Citizen said accurate information on the state's database is crucial because people count on it to make important health care decisions and when information is missing or wrong.

"It's frustrating, but it's past frustrating. It's really endangering people's lives and if they're not getting the job done, there's a real human cost for that," Mason said.

Doctors have 30 days to report any final disciplinary or adverse actions to the state. If they don't, they can lose their license or have it suspended.

When a doctor fails to report an adverse action and the state gets wind of it, the state sends a letter asking them to update their profile. The state reported that last year 17 doctors got this sort of letter. And already this year, 11 have.

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