HHS: Doctor malpractice, disciplinary data no longer public

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While the healthcare industry promotes enhanced transparency, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is taking a step in the other direction, shutting down the once-public National Practitioner Data Bank, reports The Kansas City Star. As a result, the public can no longer access information on malpractice and disciplinary actions against thousands of doctors.

"We have a responsibility to make sure under federal law that it remains confidential," said Martin Kramer, spokesman for the HHS's Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the Data Bank.

The HHS defends the access block, noting that the names of doctors were getting leaked thanks to reporters using the public data to discover the names of physicians and publishing them in news stories, notes The Star--which has recently used the anonymous data to reveal the identity of a Johnson County neurosurgeon.

Yet, patient advocacy groups aren't convinced. "Whatever they do will probably make it more difficult to use the files in meaningful ways," Alan Levine, a healthcare researcher with Public Citizen's Health Research Group, told the newspaper.

Earlier this year, Public Citizen called on HHS to investigate state medical boards for failing to punish doctors who had their clinical privileges revoked or restricted by the hospitals where they worked.

Yesterday, the consumer advocacy group wrote a letter to the Health Resources and Services Administration saying, "The continued availability of this data is crucial to patient safety and research aimed at informed public policy decisions concerning malpractice, tort reform, peer review, and medical licensing."

The Data Bank is not authorized to make public files immediately accessible on its website, although it must to respond to information requests, notes The Star.

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