The Consumer Union's Safe Patient Project is seeking full and unrestricted access to the public use file of an online database that tracks physician malpractice and disciplinary cases, HealthLeaders Media reports (Commins, HealthLeaders Media, 11/16).
The database -- called the National Practitioner Data Bank -- was established by HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration in 1986 to share information about questionable physician practices.
The database was required by law to be confidential and accessible only to certain health care providers and entities. However, the database included a section that was stripped of personal identifiers and accessible to the public, researchers and the media.
HHS blocked access to the public section earlier this year after a complaint by a Kansas neurosurgeon. A Kansas City Star reporter had combined data from the public use file with other material to write a story about malpractice allegations against the neurosurgeon.
Last week, HRSA restored access to the file. However, agency officials said anyone who uses the database must promise not to combine the information with publicly available records, such as court files, to identify physicians (iHealthBeat, 11/10).
Safe Patient Project's View
According to the Safe Patient Project, the new requirement protects the identities of physicians at the expense of patients.
Lisa McGiffert -- director of the Safe Patient Project -- said, "When information held by the government is declared 'public,' there should be no strings attached to the use of that data."
McGiffert added, "It's time to provide the public full access to this critical information, including the names of doctors who have been disciplined by state licensing boards or sued for failing to provide safe care."
Safe Patient Project's stance differs from that of the American Medical Association, which has argued that the database would not give consumers an accurate representation of physician qualifications.
AMA CEO James Madara said that the statute of the database "explicitly provides that information reported to the NPDB is considered confidential and should not be disclosed except with respect to professional review activity" (HealthLeaders Media, 11/16).