A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the federal government temporarily took the National Practitioners Data Bank (“NPDB”) offline in September 2011, and then subsequently placed new rules on how the public can use the information contained on the database after it was relaunched. The NPDB is a federally-maintained database that compiles medical malpractice payouts, hospital discipline and regulatory sanctions against physicians and other healthcare providers. However, the NPDB does not mention offenders by name. Instead, it simply assigns a number to each malpractice payout, or adverse disciplinary action, listed. The new rules that recently took effect now prohibit members of the public from using any information contained in the NPDB to identify any physician by name.
In mid-October, Illinois’ Department of Financial and Professional Regulation recently launched a website, which lists those active Illinois physicians who have paid a medical malpractice judgment or settlement within the previous five year. However, unlike the NPDB, the Illinois website, www.idfpr.com, identifies doctors by name! The Illinois site also lists whether physicians have been fired, had disciplinary actions against them, or been convicted of a felony or class A misdemeanor. Since launching less than two months ago, the Illinois site has had almost 750,000 hits. This fact demonstrates that Illinois residents want to learn as much as possible about their treating physicians, including whether they have a history of medical malpractice payouts.
Please note that the Illinois site is still working out some kinks. For example, approximately 15% of active Illinois physicians have not signed off on their public profiles listed on the www.idfpr.com site. Additionally, Illinois officials have encountered problems obtaining criminal histories for some healthcare providers. A recent Chicago Tribune article described how one Illinois chiropractor failed to include his conviction for patient battery, and, as a result, that critical information was not initially included on the www.idfpr.com site.
The aforementioned Chicago Tribune article quoted Sue Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, as saying that officials are “really pleased with all the interest” the new website has garnered. However, some Illinois politicians rightly point out that the site should contain even more information. For example, State Rep. Mary Flowers (D – Chicago), one of the Patients’ Right to Know Act’s sponsors, would like the public profiles to include medical malpractice payments, firings, and criminal convictions going back ten years. In fact, she is going to introduce legislation early next year to change the applicable regulations, and allow information for the previous ten years to be posted on the site.
Although the Illinois physician background information website is imperfect, it is nonetheless a fantastic starting point. If politicians in states other than Illinois are really concerned with improving patient care, they would remove the shackles, and allow the public unfettered access to all healthcare providers’ background information. The federal government, and all state legislatures, should follow Illinois’ lead by establishing similar websites to inform the public about dangerous doctors.
Read my original post about the NPDB here:
Also, more information about the NPDB can be found here: http://www.healthjournalism.org/blog/2011/11/agency-re-posts-national-practitioner-data-bank-file-but-restrictions-draw-fire/
Read the Chicago Tribune article here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/ct-met-doctor-profiles-20111127,0,5169338.story