Intended for healthcare professionals

Medicine And Multimedia


BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 05 December 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1599
  1. Douglas Carnall (ddcarnall{at} The raw data about the Bristol paediatric cardiac surgeons wasn't easy to interpret for the General Medical Council, which took a record 65 days to deliver a verdict on the surgeons involved. Now the broader inquiry is to begin. Its proceedings will be on line at its website, and its preliminary hearing generated 14 000 words in a morning, a file of about 120 kb.

    Still, open access to information does provide strength to the consumer. In the United States, fee for service payments provide incentives for doctors to intervene even when their caseload is too low in volume to sustain the necessary expertise. But if you are a patient looking for a surgeon in New Jersey you can see comparative mortality data for individual surgeons at The UK effort lags behind, but you can see some aggregated data on cardiothoracic surgery at At you can browse for a doctor by zip code and state. In some states, such as Massachusetts, the number of malpractice suits found against each doctor, and the amount paid in damages, is also available, surrounded by cautions about interpreting these rare events.

    How long will it be before British patients have access to this kind of information? The GMC has yet even to publish its register on line, although this is promised to be on the way. As it stands, its site ( is a kind of virtual brochure, with fun shockwave animations and downloadable versions of its various guides and press releases. Its What's New section is perhaps the best value, a trove of cautionary tales from the professional misconduct hearings.

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