National database riddled with holes: Records missing on disciplined healthcare workers

More than 20 years after its inception, hospitals soon will be able to use a database that lists the names of caregivers from around the nation who have been disciplined or named in a malpractice action. The only problem is, the database is missing information on thousands of disciplined health professionals, an investigation conducted by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times found. 

State medical boards are supposed to file reports on all disciplined caregivers, but thus far no penalties have been levied against states that have failed to fully comply. For example, California's psychiatric technicians board lists 84 professionals who have been disciplined since 2008. But the federal government site run by the Health Resources and Services Administration lists none of those 84 professionals. In one instance that went unreported to the federal agency, two technicians were stripped of their licenses after failing to assist a woman who was choking on a paper towel.

Likewise, "hundreds of disciplinary actions" were taken against close to 100 nurses in Indiana in 2004 and 2005, but many of the actions taken were not listed on the database. One case involved a nurse holding a knife to a co-worker's throat. 

After HRSA officials essentially denied that anything was wrong with the database, Mary Wakefield, the agency's head, admitted that records were missing. Wakefield and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to state governors last week asking them to help fill in gaps in the database. 

"The programs are intended to be a central source of information to assist in addressing patient safety, fraud and abuse in our healthcare delivery systems," the letter reads. "The information in these national data banks is only as good as the information provided by State licensing boards and other reporting entities." 

For more information on the database:
- read this ProPublica piece
- here's the Wakefield/Sebelius letter