Consumer Group Wants Full Access to National Practitioner Data Base

John Commins, 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."

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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