Federal Database of Malpractice Reports Fails to Protect Patients

Posted On June 3rd, 2011 By CSSFIRM.COM

One would think that a federal database made to track malpractice reports would do a proper job of identifying problem doctors so that patients can protect themselves. However, the current program does more to protect doctors than it does patients.

A Good Idea at First

The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) keeps the names and places of practice in its records private. Created in 1990, the database also keeps records of any disciplinary actions hospitals or medical boards take against the doctors. In its originally conceived form, the database was to include identifying information of all doctors reported to it. However, the NPDB does not disclose doctors’ names or work locations.

Database Fails in Its Mission

The reason for the privacy, according to lawmakers, was to prevent doctors from simply moving their practices to a new location to avoid public scrutiny. However, approximately 5,200 doctors who received discipline for substandard care in one state subsequently moved to another only to receive citations again. Medical boards and hospitals have access to the doctors’ names in the database, yet they apparently hire them anyway.

Since the database’s inception, 32,167 doctors received state and federal disciplinary actions. Hundreds of these doctors have received 10 or more[1]. Many have caused serious harm or death to patients. Sadly, these are only some of the doctors who have harmed patients. Hospital and insurance companies often fail to report actions to the database.

Toothless Lion

Cynthia Grubbs is the director of the databank. She indicates that many events go unreported. Most hospitals will try to remediate problems to prevent them from escalating. In addition, the databank does little to enforce reporting. The Federal Department of Health and Human Services, the agency overseeing NPDB, has never fined any individual or organization for failing to report an incident.

Consumer Advocates Urge Changes

The consumer watchdog Public Citizen uses the database to track down events where doctors received no discipline from their state medical board. They can then work to urge medical boards to take proper action. Dr. Sydney Wolfe of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group wants more information available. “Just imagine what would happen if you could actually look up the doctors by name.”

Cecil Wilson is president of the American Medical Association. He argues that the database is flawed and unreliable, and therefore the information should remain private. According to Wilson, the state medical board is the best place to find information about problem doctors.

Unfortunately, state medical boards do not share information with one another. A problem doctor simply moves to another state where his record is clean. In addition, medical board records do not include information about malpractice cases.

While an open, centralized database would be the ideal option for patients, only Congress could make that happen. With no champions ready to legislate change, the NPDB will not be sharing doctor’s names any time soon.

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