Advocacy group files lawsuit to close loophole on NPDB malpractice reporting

Public Citizen filed a lawsuit this week to close a loophole in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) reporting system.

The advocacy group filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against federal agencies to close the loophole it says allows physicians and other healthcare providers to evade medical malpractice reporting requirements. The lawsuit was filed against the U.S, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), its Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and the U.S Health Resources and Services Administration.

The lawsuit seeks to close the so-called “corporate shield loophole,” the advocacy group said in an announcement, which allows physicians to avoid having medical malpractice payments that are made on their behalf reported to the NPDB. The loophole deprives hospitals and state licensing boards of vital information needed to protect patient health and safety, the group said. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations can access the NPDB during the credentialing process for physicians and other providers.

Public Citizen wants the court to force HHS to amend the NPDB regulations to require that all reports of medical malpractice payments be submitted to the NPBD naming any healthcare practitioners on whose behalf the malpractice payment is made, whether or not the practitioners are named in the claim or action, the group said. Currently, the loophole allows a practitioner to avoid being reported to the NPDB if a malpractice victim agrees to dismiss the practitioner from a lawsuit or claim, leaving a hospital or other corporate entity as the sole defendant.

Organizations authorized to access NPDB reports, including state licensing boards, hospitals and health maintenance organizations, can use the data base to conduct background checks on physicians and other practitioners as it includes reports on sanctions for misconduct, licensing issues and malpractice payments.

“The NPDB was created to ensure patient safety by providing a comprehensive, reliable information center concerning the malpractice payment and disciplinary history of physicians and other healthcare practitioners,” Michael Carome, M.D., direction of Public Citizen’s health research group, said in the announcement. “The corporate shield loophole makes the NPDB’s information less complete, less reliable and less useful.”

- read the lawsuit
- see the announcement