Kingston, New York Medical Malpractice Lawyer Discusses the Significance of the National Database of Doctors Withdrawal

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice
Established in 1986, the National Practitioner Data Bank is a massive "public use file" and is essentially a data bank of valuable information harvested from years of research and investigations of doctors. Particularly, disciplinary actions and malpractice awards are given special attention. The data bank itself is very detailed but it does, however, have the physician's names and addresses redacted to protect their privacy; that information is kept on the full data bank not accessible to the public. Yet, the Health and Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, just removed the "public use file" from the website.

But why?!

Well, a neurosurgeon from Kansas sent a complaint to Health and Resources and Services Administration after a journalist wrote a particularly damaging-and aggressive-article regarding him. The physician had paid out a malpractice claim, but had not been disciplined by the state. Since this information is particularly detailed in the public use file, it was easy for the journalist to recognize this inconsistency; shouldn't someone who pays out a medical malpractice claim be disciplined by the state? A physician could pay out a claim when forced by the jury, or could do so in a settlement (probably forced by their insurer). So how did the journalist connect this to the particular physician?

Using another resource-court documents, research by state agencies, and looking at hospital actions or curative actions. Through this method, the journalist was able to connect the more detailed information in the public use file without the physician's name, to the court documents, state agency research, and hospital actions which did contain the physicians name but without the particular details of the incident. And this is not the first time this has happened.

Immediately after being pulled, multiple journalist organizations protested removing the public use file. The agency responded that it is taking it down to re-evaluate how to better protect the private information of physicians, and estimates that it will be approximately six months before the website is back up. However, a spokesman did note that he was unsure what changes would take place and how it could be changed.

While I certainly advocate an increases transparency in the health care system-a goal of the Affordable Care Act and the health care reform as a whole-I think this was the correct thing to do. While now it might be journalists uncovering the private information of physicians, all it takes is one aggrieved patient in a medical malpractice case to also connect the dots and learn the private information of a physician. Inevitable, it would put physicians and their families in jeopardy. It might be easy to say that a physician should practice medicine much more carefully and do everything they can to prevent harming patients. Yet, a lot of physicians are indeed sued (I just wrote a post on this early last week) but very few of them actually pay out a claim. Therefore, the scenario is actually perfect for a patient to sue the physician for what they think is a viable claim, yet it turns out to not be, and the patient seeks to vindicate the issue themselves. Trouble!

But fixing this system will not be easy-there are plenty of ways to circumvent this systems, just as the journalists did. But how would you do it? What do you think? I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.
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