Iowa board seeks ruling on question of public charges

The medical board said a case against one doctor could affect what is disclosed about physicians.

By Damon Adams — Posted Jan. 31, 2005

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The Iowa Board of Medical Examiners wants the Iowa Supreme Court to resolve a dispute over when to publicly disclose allegations against a physician.

The medical board last month appealed the ruling of Polk County District Judge Joel D. Novak ordering the board to stop disclosing information related to a physician's case until its final disposition.

The case involves Kirk M. Smith, MD, who applied to the board for an Iowa medical license in July 2001, court records show. Without a hearing, the board denied Dr. Smith's request for a license, citing concerns about allegations that he had touched patients improperly while in a residency program in Missouri, records said.

Michael Sellers, Dr. Smith's attorney, said the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Dr. Smith then requested a hearing, which the board granted. After the hearing, the board issued Dr. Smith a restricted license. He asked the board to remove the pre-hearing denial of his license from its Web site, but the board refused.

Sellers said Dr. Smith now works in a residency program, but he declined to say where.

In November 2004, Judge Novak ruled that only information from a final decision by the board should be made public.

"That's the point where it just makes sense for the public to be notified," said Sellers.

Board officials say the case is important because it could affect what information about Iowa doctors the public can view. The board filed its appeal in mid-December. "It does hide information that the public really needs to know to protect themselves," said Kent Nebel, the board's director of legal affairs.

Jeanine Freeman, senior vice president of legal affairs for the Iowa Medical Society, said the ruling is narrow and doesn't apply to public disclosure of all disciplinary allegations against physicians, but only when a license is denied.

Donald J. Palmisano, MD, immediate past president of the AMA, said the AMA supports patients having access to reliable information on doctors as a way to promote patient safety. But he said publicly listing allegations can hurt a physician's reputation before the physician gets due process.

"We would be in favor of final decisions being made public, of course. But when an allegation is made, this affects their standing in the community and their practice," Dr. Palmisano said.

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