How One Doc Forced Gov’t to Close a Public Database

1o Nov -  An agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that maintains a discipline and medical-malpractice database reopened it for public access yesterday, two months after the agency had first taken the database offline.

by Marian Wang

The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) contains information used by hospitals, insurers, and licensing boards to track doctors’ records, check prospective hires, and make other decisions. A publicly available version of the database — which removed confidential identifiers such as doctors’ names and addresses — had long been used by reporters and others interested in patient safety. In the years it was online, journalists could reference the database and, with additional reporting, could at times identify doctors with uniquely long histories of being sued or disciplined for medical malpractice. 

Then, two months ago, the government cut off public access — a decision that was sharply criticized by a number of journalism organizations and consumer groups. 

What was behind that decision? Apparently, one Kansas doctor with a trail of malpractice suits.

A public records request by Sen. Charles Grassley and the New York Times turned up documents about the decision that shows that the agency closed the database days after the doctor, Robert Tenny, complained to the government. Thanks to the database, he told the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, he was about to get unwanted attention in his local paper.  

We culled through the documents and pulled out some interesting snippets that give a glimpse into the backstory behind why the public database was temporarily shut down and why — even now — the restored database has some new restrictions.  

(Story at ProPublica)

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