The New York Times: Prescriptions - The Business of Health Care
Published September 15, 2011
Three journalism organizations on Thursday protested to the Obama administration a decision to pull a database of physician discipline and malpractice actions off the Web.
The National Practitioner Data Bank, created in 1986, is used by state medical boards, insurers and hospitals. The Public Use File of the data bank, with physician names and addresses deleted, has provided valuable information for many years to researchers and reporters investigating lax oversight of doctors, trends in disciplinary actions and malpractice awards.
On Sept. 1, responding to a complaint from Dr. Robert T. Tenny, a Kansas neurosurgeon, the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, removed the public use file from its Web site, said an agency spokesman, Martin A. Kramer. The agency also wrote a reporter a letter to warn he could be liable for $11,000 or more in civil fines for violating a confidentiality provision of the federal law. Both actions outraged journalism groups.
“Reporters across the country have used the public use file to write stories that have exposed serious lapses in the oversight of doctors that have put patients at risk,” Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and a ProPublica reporter, said in an interview. “Their stories have led to new legislation, additional levels of transparency in various states, and kept medical boards focused on issues of patient safety.”
Two other national journalism organizations, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists, joined the health reporters’ group in the letter to Mary K. Wakefield, administrator of the federal office.
“If anything, the agency erred on the side of physician privacy,” they wrote.
The entire story can be read here.