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Public Database That Tracks Physicians’ Malpractice Records Should Be Restored

Sept. 13, 2011  

Public Database That Tracks Physicians’ Malpractice Records Should Be Restored

Federal Government Takes Down Database That Has Been Available for 15 Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should restore public access to an online database that anonymously tracks physicians’ records of malpractice, medical errors and medical discipline, Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to the agency.

For more than 15 years, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), housed within HHS, has made available the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) Public Use Data File – the only comprehensive national source for reliable data on medical malpractice and other matters reported to the NPDB. The public use file, which is updated quarterly, doesn’t contain physician names or even exact malpractice payment amounts, dates of payments or actions, practitioner ages or years of graduation. Rather, all these variables are provided only in broad ranges in the system.

The database is used widely by researchers, scholars, policymakers, journalists and the like. Public Citizen has used it to analyze trends in malpractice payments, to identify and report to HRSA potential compliance problems with reporting to the NPDB, and to identify state medical boards that failed to discipline physicians that had been disciplined by hospitals for serious infractions, such as being an “immediate threat” to health or safety of patients.

But earlier this month, the public database was taken down.

“We find it ironic that at a time in which other parts of HHS are becoming more transparent and even proposing to make detailed ratings of health care entities and providers available to the public, HRSA appears to be restricting access to information mandated by law to be made public,” said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “The database has been very valuable to Public Citizen, researchers, scholars and writers. HHS should restore it immediately and keep it up to date.”

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.