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HHS Shuts Down Public Access to Malpractice Data Bank

by Edward J. Kroger, MD, JD on September 14th, 2011

The National Practitioner’s Data Bank (NPDB) maintains confidential records on malpractice suits, settlements and adverse licensing actions on U.S. physicians. The information is used by hospitals, insurance plans and licensing boards, but has never been made fully accessible to the public. Public access to the NPDB files was limited by replacing physician names and other identifying data with numbers and verdict results by ranges.

News organizations, however, have been increasingly using the generalized NPDB public information, in correlation with court records (which are generally accessible to the public) to identify specific physicians with significant malpractice histories.

On September 4, 2011 the Kansas City Star used the public information to publish a story about a specific Johnson County neurosurgeon.

Now, the Department of Health and Human Services has shut down the public access. A HHS spokesman has indicated the government might make the records available again in the future, but only after additional redactions to the data fields.

Researchers and public interest groups have already begun protesting the lack of access to the NPDB.

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