The leaders of three journalism groups have told the federal government that it was wrong to deny the public access to a database that tracked doctor malpractice payouts and disciplinary actions. The presidents of the three journalism groups -- the Association of Health Care Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists -- sent a letter Thursday to Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Reporters for years have used the data to identify flaws in their states' regulatory systems that have led to patient harm. As a result of these stories, states have enacted new legislation and medical boards have taken steps to investigate problem doctors. St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Jeremy Kohler and Blythe Bernhard wrote about the government's decision in a Health Matters blog post Monday and in a story in the Post-Dispatch Tuesday. While the database was confidential, Kohler and Bernhard reported, it contained a public portion where doctors were only identified by their state, the decade they graduated and an age range of 10 years.