Heisel’s ‘Doctors Behaving Badly’ goes viral

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

As anybody who follows the Reporting on Health blog knows, William Heisel’s virtual roadshow of physician background research has been gaining ridiculous amounts of steam lately. His Doctors Behaving Badly brand has taken on a life of its own, propelled by a Google Map he put together to place his findings into geographic context.


View Doctors Behaving Badly in a larger map

That geographic context has become the focus of his investigation, as Heisel has turned what was once a quirky little recurring item into a systematic, state-by-state way into how the public can check up on disciplined (or otherwise problematic) doctors. He’s almost reached the halfway point, and he’s reached some interesting conclusions. My favorite is that he doesn’t think states that have terrible sites with which to check up on doctors are being malicious, they’re just bad at making websites.

I think the problem lies in poor website design. A board starts with a simple site that allows people to see if a doctor has a valid license. Then that same board adds scanned documents from its disciplinary files, but instead of linking these two things together, it puts them in completely different parts of its site. When the board gets around to adding malpractice information or criminal histories, it layers those on top, too, instead of fully integrating them.

The effect is a stratified system of information that lets patients think their physicians have a clean history when, in fact, their records are simply too hard to find.

Heisel recently appeared on Fox News to explain what he’d found thus far.

On the whole, Heisel’s effort helps illuminate the power of my favorite online reporting tool: The progressively investigated database.

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