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Medical malpractice records removed from public view

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The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to reopen public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor  performing doctors.

HRSA took down its online public file of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPBD) Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Starreporter used the publicly available information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.

“Shutting down public access to the data bank undermines the critical mission of identifying inefficiencies within our health care system – particularly at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a letter Friday to HRSA’s administrator Mary Wakefield.  “More transparency serves the public interest. Generally speaking, except in cases of national security, the public’s business ought to be public.”

Information from the data bank is intended to be public as long as it does not identify particular health care entities or practitioners, Grassley said in the letter. And yet HRSA threatened the reporter, Alan Bavley, with civil monetary penalties for “republication of information obtained from the NPDB.”

Grassley asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to Bavley, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in Bavley’s story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.

The data bank site says HRSA plans to restore public access as quickly as possible. HRSA has previously said the process of further removing identifiable information from the database could take up to six months, Grassley said.

In the meantime, reporters and researchers can submit requests for data, which are subject to review.

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Comments

  1. Alyssa Ast Says:
    October 10th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Hmmm…I understand privacy issues, but it would be nice to know about malpractice concerns when looking for a physician.

  2. Marik Jost Says:
    October 10th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    In our society people sue over a slice of pizza, so settlements for a busy doctor are no surprize and no indication of their competence.

  3. NormfromGA Says:
    October 11th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    If “settlements for a busy doctor are … no indication of their competence”, then the National Practitioner Data Bank is a waste of taxpayer money, and should cease to exist. After all, the doctor and plaintiffs already knows about the suits.

    However, if I am considering using a doctor that has a extensive history of malpractice, I would like to know about it, if only to hear him or her try to explain it.
    The fact that the names have been hidden from us to protect the defendants, and are about to get worse, ticks me off.

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