The National Practitioner Databank (“NPDB”) is a federally-maintained database, which, since 1986, has tracked medical malpractice settlements and verdicts, and disciplinary actions, against healthcare providers. State medical and nursing licensing boards, and other credentialing bodies, use the information contained in the NPBD when determining whether to grant healthcare providers practice privileges. The one catch is that the NPDB does not identify physicians, nurses, or other healthcare providers by name.
A little more than two months ago, the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”), the federal agency that maintains the NPDB, took away the public’s access to the database. The HRSA explained that it did so, because journalists were able to analyze the data, and identify specific providers. Not surprisingly, there was a significant backlash to the HRSA’s controversial move.
Earlier this week, the HRSA reversed its earlier decision, and has once again allowed the public to access the NPDB. However, the HRSA now requires users who access the NPDB website to use that information only for statistical purposes. Additionally, the HRSA expressly forbids public users from identifying providers listed in the NPDB by name. In a November 9, 2011 press release, HRSA administrator, Mary K. Wakefield, explained, “HRSA is required, by law, to provide the information in a form that does not permit the identification of individual practitioners or health care entities. When we made this decision, we also made clear that we were committed to restoring [public access] to the NPDB website with appropriate protections so that critically important research can continue.”
The conditioning of the public’s use of the NPDB has been heavily scrutinized. In a recent letter to the Department for Health and Human Services, Senator Charles Grassley (R – Iowa) stated, “The intent of the legislation that [allowed public access the NPDB] was to enhance the quality of healthcare, encourage greater efforts in professional peer review and restrict the ability of incompetent healthcare practitioners to relocate without discovery of previous substandard performance or unprofessional conduct. However, from the documents provided by HRSA it appears that instead of protecting the interest of public health, its purpose was to protect a single physician who had a malpractice suit and disciplinary action filed against him.” Similarly, seven journalism groups protested to the HRSA adding ironclad strings to the public’s use of the NPDB, calling them “ill-advised, unenforceable and probably unconstitutional.”
I applaud Senator Grassley in standing up to anti-justice advocates, the medical establishment, and, for all intents and purposes, his political party, by arguing that the public should be granted unfettered access to the NPDB. He is absolutely correct that the NPDB’s true purpose is to improve our nation’s healthcare. He is also right that private citizens should be allowed to research their doctors, physicians, and other healthcare providers, and make informed before undergoing treatment. It absolutely defies logic that a potential patient is not entitled to know whether a physician has paid numerous medical malpractice settlements, or been officially reprimanded, before seeing that doctor.
Access the NPDB here: http://www.npdb-hipdb.hrsa.gov/
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