Government Blocks Public Access to List of ‘Bad Doctors’

The government keeps a database of “bad doctors”: physicians, dentists and other health-care workers who have paid malpractice claims or lost licenses or their privileges to clinics or hospitals. The National Practitioner Data Bank also includes information about Medicare fraud. The government updates this treasure trove four times a year.

The Center for Public Integrity said that while you can get your hands on broad data from the files, you can’t access the very thing you want to see — specific complaints about particular doctors. It turns out that only people such as hospital administrators can see that stuff. The doctors can view their own files but not, for example, the file of a doctor to whom they might refer a patient. Lawyers who are investigating complaints can’t access the database, either.

The Center reported that the lack of access has been attributed to lobbying by the American Medical Association:

“Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, said ‘Congress rolled over’ when it agreed to restrict public access to the HHS database. ‘One of the most important benefits of the databank has gone wasted,’ Wolfe said. ‘Unfortunately, there’s been no effort that’s come close to succeeding in opening this up.’

“An AMA spokeswoman said the organization opposes making providers’ names public because the database ‘is riddled with duplicate entries [and] inaccurate data.’ Information about physicians’ credentials and disciplinary histories is available through ‘state-based systems already in place,’ AMA spokeswoman Katherine Hatwell wrote in an e-mail. ‘These state-based systems are linked through the Federation of State Medical Boards Web site, so information on physicians can be easily located even if the physician has moved from another state.’

“The state medical board federation’s public site has physician-specific data on disciplinary actions and licensure history, among other things. But it lacks some information contained in the NPDB -– e.g., malpractice payments -– and it charges $9.95 per name search. A sample provider profile is shown here” [PDF].

Is the AMA correct? Is it easy, in your state, to get doctor records? Are they online? They are in Florida, and the records are amazingly easy to find. But that has not been my experience with other states. I wonder what you have found.

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