The government helps hide malpractice?

The government helps hide malpractice?

Summary: Journalism groups cry out against government shutdown of public database crucial to malpractice oversight.

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TOPICS: Health, Browser
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It seems ironic that, at a time when there's so much in the news about tremendous amounts of patient data being leaked (data that's actually supposed to be private), data about physician malpractice that should be public is being removed from the Internet by the government.

The nastygram threatening fines and lawsuits from the Health Resources and Services Administration (which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services).

The National Practitioner Data Bank has since been yanked by the government agency, even though the reporter had only accessed and used information freely available in the public section of the database. From this information, he was apparently able to sleuth out who some of the unnamed parties were, and deduce that they hadn't received any kind of disciplinary action. His whistle-blowing story was subsequently published.

According to the New York Times article on the debacle the data will probably be coming back online at some point in the next half a year or so, but my guess is it'll be seriously nerfed.

The question is, where's the patient advocacy in all of this? We need physicians to keep an eye on us, but part of our ability to trust them to do that comes from our ability to keep an eye on them. The Internet has helped us to do this. Individual physicians absolutely have the right to protected private lives. But we have the right to know something about who we are being treated by, and something about what their records look like.

A number of journalism organizations have publicly protested this mess. You can read about their position and letter here.

What do you think about this battle of rights? Tell us in the TalkBacks below.

Topics: Health, Browser

About

Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.


Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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18 comments
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  • Even ZDNet is helping to hide it

    This article assumes that we know a lot of things we don't know. We first have "the nastygram," without any previous reference to any nastygrams or what they said. We also don't know who received "the" nastygram.

    Then there's that second paragraph, which isn't even a complete sentence.

    Then there's "the" reporter, without any previous mention of any reporters, or what any reporters said or did.

    The editor gets 100 lashes with a wet noodle.
    Robert Hahn
    • Which Country??

      Hi :)
      I wish Americans (USA) would realise that there are other countries on the planet. It was really difficult to find out which country this was about until i realised that it was written by someone in the USA.
      Regards from Tom :)
      Tom6
      • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

        @Tom6 Or maybe you should realize you're on ZDNet US Edition. Click the little tab in the top left to switch to a different part of the world.
        Aerowind
    • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

      @Robert Hahn

      At least it wasn't Zack Wittaker, who apparently thinks prepositions are just text ornamentation, to be applied liberally with no regard to their meaning.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

    As the Times article said, the nastygram was sent to the KC Star reporter prior to publication of his article. The letter is readily available on the internet. It threatens a fine if Data Bank information is published.

    Such attempts to restrain the press are serious. The removal of previously public information -- the Public Use File -- when the government now seems to admit that the Star did nothing improper is also very troubling.
    WoodsideParkBob
  • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

    Self-regulation of the profession has been ineffective in assuring public protection. The government is unable to ensure that the public is protected because of financial relationships between medical societies and elected officials. The only recourse is the fourth estate with journalists ferreting out information to offer some semblance of accountability.
    Rosemary Gibson
    Author, The Treatment Trap, Wall of Silence
    www.treatmenttrap.org
    RosemaryG
  • The government can't legally take any action against the reporter

    I'm surprised that Cynthia Grubbs, RN JD, even bothered to try to threaten him with legal action. Evidence that nursing and lawyering shouldn't be combined.

    While the National Practitioner Data Bank has confidential portions, it's obvious that the reporter only accessed public information areas. That was enough to combine with other public sources to provide him with the information necessary to identify both practioners, and the lack of corrective or punative actions agains them for proven malpractice.

    The thing is, the National Practitioner Data Bank is primarily used by hospitals and healthcare facilities to recredential physicians every few years. Information used for that purpose is confidential. What the news reporter discovered, is the process is a sham and pretty much useless when it comes to patient protection. It's total whitewash for the government to hold up and say they're working to protect us all. You might get lucky to find someone in a medical staff office to agree with that; but probably not. Most of them who have been in the business for any time have bought the party line hook, line and stinker.
    Dr_Zinj
  • Same old, same old

    The government is going to protect the hand that feeds it.
    pwatson
  • These types of regulation always fail

    Physicians and medical companies have immense wealth in this country, which translates directly into political power with the way that the government has essentially legalized bribery of Congress. Most of the regulations are written for show, not for enforcement. Most of the data collected is to provide for civil service jobs, not protecting the public.

    The press was momentarily able to take advantage of the data, but that will quickly change now that the PTB know that the data can be used against them. It will be diluted, obfuscated, or simply not collected anymore. But the jobs will remain, sucking up tax dollars to do something equally useless or duplicitous.

    Ron Paul has some good points when it comes to minimizing government, but not for the reasons he believes. Because the system is inherently corrupt, any government effort to police it becomes corrupt as well, just adding to the burden on the taxpayers.
    terry flores
    • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

      The Data Bank isn't inherently corrupt and doesn't use any tax dollars. It is entirely funded by user fees paid by those who can legally query and obtain the data. About two-thirds of all the queries are voluntary, not required by law, so obviously those who can query think the data is useful. A survey of users found that 9 percent of the time when queriers obtained data bank reports, they found new information that they had not learned in practitioner's applications or from other sources. That may explain why the Data Bank got very high ratings in the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey.

      Having said all that, however, taking down the Public Use File was a major blunder by the Health Resources and Services Administration. They should be working to get Congress to make the entire Data Bank public, not removing what little was public.
      WoodsideParkBob
  • While I despise the government censoring...

    ...this types of information, there is the matter of dealing with a website that may or may not have oversight as to the claims of malpractice. Who researches whether or not these claims are valid, or just an angry family looking for money, or simply a family who is bitter and wants to lash out. Unfortunately, our society no longer has restraint against false accusations so a professional's career could be ruined by a family and their greedy lackey lawyer looking for a quick buck.<br>However, on the other side, if this database contains verified malpractice judgements, then there's no reason this shouldn't be available to the public. This is no different than the Catholic church quietly shuffling sexually abusive priests to other parishes in hopes of making the problem go away.
    Zorched
    • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

      The data bank does not contain "claims." It only has malpractice payments which were actually made. state licensure board actions, hospital and similar peer reviewed disciplinary action, and a few other categories of formal actions.
      WoodsideParkBob
  • The Press as Fourth Estate

    is an endangered species. It is occasionally still seen on the Internet. But it loses effectiveness even more if the reporters can't be bothered to write grammatical English.

    "The nastygram threatening fines and lawsuits from the Health Resources and Services Administration (which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services)." is NOT a complete sentence.
    mejohnsn
  • RE: The government helps hide malpractice?

    Dr Zinj has it right. The NPDB is only used by insurance companies, hospitals and the federal government for credentials, hiring, and a club against the professionals. Information about the professional is available through the various state boards or state supreme courts (lawyers)This data base is a waste of money and just another Big Brother production of the feds to control an element of society. They do an excellent job of prosecuting the innocent,because they don't shoot back.
    DDS 34 yrs
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