About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ expresses concerns about new rules for federal doctor discipline database Date: 11/09/11

Nov. 9, 2011

NPDB public use file

Nov. 9 statement from HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N.

Earlier coverage:

See an interactive timeline of the National Practitioner Data Bank controversy.

Nov. 3: Grassley blasts HRSA over data removal after seeing letter exchange with doc

Oct. 7: Grassley criticizes federal agency over removal of doctor discipline data
Grassley’s letter to HRSA Administrator Wakefield (PDF)

Oct. 2: Former Practitioner Data Banks official says HRSA ‘erroneously interpreting the law’
Oshel’s letter & statement (PDF)
Letter to Sebelius & Wakefield (PDF)

Sept. 28: Journalists turn to Sebelius for access to National Practitioner Data Bank file
Letter to Sebelius (PDF)

Sept. 22: Agency declines to restore public data
Letter from HRSA (PDF)

See how reporters have used NPDB’s public use file to expose gaps in oversight of doctors

Sept. 21: More journalism groups join effort, send letters to Congress to restore access
Letter to members of Congress

Articles, editorials about public access to the NPDB public use file (PDF)

Sept. 15, 2011: AHCJ, other journalism organizations protest removal of data from public website
HRSA letter to Bavley (PDF)

Earlier version of NPDB public use file posted by Investigative Reporters and Editors, working with AHCJ and the Society of Professional Journalists.

COLUMBIA, Mo. –  The Association of Health Care Journalists welcomed the re-posting of the public version of the National Practitioner Data Bank today, but expressed concern over new conditions reporters must agree to in using the data.

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration removed the Data Bank’s public use file from its website in September, claiming a reporter used it to identify a physician inappropriately.

“I appreciate the Obama administration’s willingness to work with reporters on this issue but I am concerned by new restrictions that reporters must agree to in order to access the data,” AHCJ Board President Charles Ornstein said.  ”How can the government say data is public but then say it’s only public with strings attached?”

AHCJ was joined by Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the National Freedom of Information Coalition in protesting the original removal of the data.

Other groups likewise protested, including Public Citizen, Consumers Union and prominent health researchers. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley has twice written to federal officials condemning the action.

The groups pointed out the many important stories done over the past several years using the data and improving patient safety in various communities. AHCJ is concerned the new restrictions could serve as prior restraint on effectively reporting about physicians with lengthy trails of misconduct.

Users must agree to:

  1. Not use the dataset alone or in combination with other data to identify any individual or entity or otherwise link information from this file with information in another dataset in a manner that includes the identity of an individual or entity;
  2. Upon the request of HRSA, return, delete or otherwise permanently dispose of all copies of the data in the data set that are in their possession; and,
  3. Not repost the dataset and only report, disclose or post data from the dataset in connection with statistical reporting or analysis that does not identify any individual or entity.

“Having access to information on physician discipline, malpractice payouts and hospital sanctions is important for those who care about patient safety and oversight of physicians across the country,” Ornstein said. “But the restrictions put in place by HRSA are unworkable.”

Ornstein encouraged HRSA to abide by its longstanding practice of refusing to confirm or deny the identity of individual physicians in the Public Use File. In doing so, reporters and their news outlets bear the legal liability for ensuring their information is correct and newsrooms must ensure they have exercised due diligence in their reporting.

AHCJ is a nonprofit membership organization of more than 1,200 journalists interested in health and health care. It conducts training and creates other educational materials through its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. AHCJ is housed at the Missouri School of Journalism.