State to post license data

Massachusetts is planning an online database with the license status and complaint records of more than 800,000 professionals.

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Massachusetts consumers soon will be able to search the Net to see if a dentist has been sued for malpractice or a stylist is cutting hair without a license.

In July, the state's Division of Registration will post online a detailed database including the license status and complaint records of more than 800,000 professionals--from chiropractors to real estate agents and plumbers.

Massachusetts has been on the forefront of digitizing public records. Physician profiles are already online, including records of paid malpractice claims and disciplinary actions.

Other states are taking similar steps to increase access to public records using the Net--such as a trend to put registered sex offender databases online. North Carolina last week became the latest state to take up that practice.

But with the wider distribution of local records come increased privacy and civil liberties concerns because an outdated record or a case of mistaken identity can be broadcast to the world or archived in online search engines.

The new Massachusetts site, in the works since last fall, will include all 32 of the state's licensing boards. Consumers will be able to research professionals' track records by county or city. One section will provide applications for licensees to download.

"We're dramatically expanding the services and information we provide to consumers and the licensees of the boards," William Wood, director of the Division of Registration, said today.

"Consumers can see if a professional is currently licensed and in good standing or if the licensee has been disciplined within the past five years," he added. "If [consumers] are unhappy about the services they get, they also can download a complaint form."

The state doesn't plan to take complaints online, however, because an array of personal documents--such as copies of medical records--have to be provided by the consumer.