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Consumer Group Wants Full Access to National Practitioner Data Base

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, November 16, 2011

A consumer advocacy group is calling for full and unfettered public access to the National Practitioner Data Base to help patients identify problem doctors in their states.

The Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project said new restrictions imposed on the database last week by the Department of Health and Human Services would protect the identities of problem doctors at the expense of patients.

"When information held by the government is declared 'public' there should be no strings attached to the use of that data," Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project, said in a media release. "The elephant in the room during this whole controversy is that most of this information is public in other places and should be public at the NPDB. It's time to provide the public full access to this critical information, including the names of doctors who have been disciplined by state licensing boards or sued for failing to provide safe care."

The Safe Patient Project demand puts them at odds with the American Medical Association. In a September 23 letter to HHS, AMA CEO James L. Madara, MD, said the nation's largest physician organization has "long opposed public access to the NPDB" because it "was designed for a limited purpose and is not a reliable source of public information about the overall qualifications of physicians."

"Providing the public with unreliable or misleading information on physicians may cause patients to make ill-informed decisions about their healthcare," Madara said in the letter. "Further, we believe that the posting of the public use data file is statutorily prohibited. The NPDB statute explicitly provides that information reported to the NPDB is considered confidential and should not be disclosed except with respect to professional review activity."

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1 comments on "Consumer Group Wants Full Access to Data on Problem Docs"


Roger Downey (11/18/2011 at 3:33 PM)
I am only familiar with the Arizona Medical Board. It posts the disciplinary actions it takes against physicians in the physician profiles available on the Board's Web site. The date of the discipline is the hyperlink to the legal documents detailing the facts of the case and the state law that was violated. You can also see when the physician was first licensed in Arizona and when the license renewal date is. Also in the profile is the physician's education and training history and the area of interest or specialty. So, Arizona already provides much of the information that people would find in the NPDB regarding disciplinary action. Some issues are confidential and must remain that way. For instance, if a physician contacts the Board and self-reports a problem with substance abuse, the Board treats this as a confidential, non-disciplinary action to help the physician recover. Physicians with this problem are often sent to a treatment center for assessment and rehabilitation. But this only works for the first offense. If the physician relapses, the Board takes public, disciplinary action against the doctor. But you can understand why the self-report needs to stay confidential. Who would self-report if his action was on the Internet or accessible by the public the next day? By the way, an Arizona physician with a substance abuse problem may only return to practice on the recommendation of the treatment facility and with Board approval. Some medical boards keep much of the disciplinary actions against doctors confidential, usually because of the lobbying efforts by county and state medical societies. If the consumer advocates want real reform, they need to work at the state medical board and state legislature level to make this information available on the Internet.