Researching disciplinary actions taken against doctors and other licensed professionals in Utah just got a lot more convenient.

As part of an overall effort by the Utah Department of Commerce to improve citizen access to information, the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) launched an upgraded database that provides scanned copies of disciplinary and non-disciplinary orders levied on licensees. The online records are accessible back to 2005.

The Utah DOPL licenses and regulates approximately 189,000 Utah professionals, including roughly 9,000 doctors, more than 8,000 engineers and more than 25,000 barbers and cosmetologists, according to a blog from the Workforce Research and Analysis Division of the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah DOPL, said creating a more robust and accessible online database had been discussed for a long time. The old version simply displayed “yes” or “no” if a professional had some disciplinary action on their record, requiring someone to call the DOPL to get a copy. But it wasn’t until last year that work got under way in earnest on the upgraded system.

According to Steinagel, the catalyst was an influx of record requests stemming from a controversial “botched abortion” by a doctor in Maryland with ties to Utah. The doctor agreed to a non-disciplinary order from the Utah DOPL that prevented her from conducting abortions in Utah, but not against practicing medicine overall.

But the non-disciplinary order wasn’t immediately available online. At the time, Utah DOPL was bombarded with calls for the information. The attention spurred Steinagel to redouble efforts on the new database. He created a chart of seven or eight Western states showing that Utah was one of maybe two or three that didn’t post copies of disciplinary orders online.

The project was approved and work began shortly thereafter, taking nine months to complete. The database was soft launched in March and made its official debut on May 3. Steinagel estimated the cost to be approximately $27,000, based on a temporary employee’s hourly pay rate and benefits calculated over the nine-month period.

“We’ve done a good job telling people whether someone is licensed and if discipline has occurred — you could have already found that on our website long before [this],” Steinagel said, But we didn’t have was a good explanation or copies of the disciplinary orders, and we feel this now takes care of that.”

The work didn’t go as smoothly as planned, however. A majority of the old disciplinary order forms had already been scanned and turned into digital documents. But the scans were made without accounting for the coding needed for the searchable database, causing a three-month setback.

“We had to rescan most everything,” Steinagel recalled. “That was the biggest delay. … There were things that weren’t redacted as required by our state law. We couldn’t just take that file and use it. We had to start over.”

Continuing Efforts

The Utah DOPL project is just one in a series of online upgrades the state’s Department of Commerce made recently.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection upgraded its searchable database of charities. Users now can quickly find out if an entity is registered with the state and how much of a donation actually goes to the charity itself.

In addition, the Utah Division of Corporations and Commercial Code enhanced its “One Stop Online Business Registration Program” (OSBR). The user interface, navigation, glossary and frequently asked questions page was upgraded in the OSBR. The Utah Division of Real Estate also just launched a new online customer chat service.

Further enhancements to the Utah DOPL database could be on the horizon. Steinagel said media outlets, insurance panels and compliance entities such as medical clinics have asked his office to expand the library of scanned disciplinary orders that are available.

Acquiring funding for those additional modifications may be a hurdle, however.

“As resources permit, we’ll go back further,” Steinagel said. “Frankly, I’d like to go back to 1980, but we’ll see how resources go. 1980 gives us 32 years. Most professionals are looking at retirement by that point. [But] one of my goals is to continue going back.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.