More journalism groups join effort to restore access to National Practitioner Data Bank

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

For immediate release
Sept. 21, 2011

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

Letter to members of Congress (PDF)

HRSA letter to Bavley (PDF)

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

Get the NPDB public use file

Investigative Reporters and Editors, working with the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists, has posted the data for download, free to the public.

The data are posted for the entire U.S. in the original text format with documentation. IRE has also made available state-by-state Excel spreadsheet files.

Three additional journalism organizations have joined the campaign calling for the Obama administration to restore access to a public version of the National Practitioner Data Bank. And letters are going out to key members of Congress asking for their assistance.

The National Association of Science Writers, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and National Freedom of Information Coalition have signed the letter, along with the Association of Health Care Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists.  The groups have more than 15,000 members.

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration removed the Public Use File (PUF) from the data bank website earlier this month because officials believe it was used to identify physicians inappropriately.

The National Practitioner Data Bank is a confidential system that compiles malpractice payouts, hospital discipline and regulatory sanctions against doctors and other health professionals. For years, HRSA has made a public version of it available without identifying information about the health providers.

“The Public Use File, while it didn’t identify doctors by name or address, provided invaluable information about the functioning of state medical boards and hospital disciplinary systems,” said the letter from the groups to members of Congress. “Reporters for years have used the data to identify holes in their states’ regulatory systems that have led to patient harm. As a result of these stories, states have enacted new legislation and medical boards have taken steps to investigate problem doctors.”

The groups also provided the representatives and senators with details of major stories written with the assistance of the Public Use File and descriptions of the changes that resulted.

Finally, the letter once again expressed concern that HRSA sent a threatening letter on Aug. 26 to Alan Bavley, a health reporter at the Kansas City Star. The letter, signed by Division of Professional Data Banks director Cynthia Grubbs, said that Bavley could be subject to a civil monetary penalty of up to $11,000 if he identified a physician based upon confidential information in the data bank. The threat came even though other reporters have done the same thing for years without penalty.

In news reports, HRSA acknowledged that the letter–and the agency’s subsequent decision to remove the Public Use File–was prompted by a single complaint: from the lawyer of a doctor who was the subject of Bavley’s story.

Although HRSA said in some news reports that it will not pursue sanctions against Bavley, he has not received an apology.

“Without stories written by our members, it’s fair to say that some unsafe doctors would continue to be practicing with clean licenses and patient protection legislation in several states likely would not have been enacted,” the letter said.

2 thoughts on “More journalism groups join effort to restore access to National Practitioner Data Bank

  1. Carol Eblen

    What is the purpose of the Data Bank if not to enhance patient safety? This threat against free speech and against an individual investigative reporter should be looked at by the Congress of the United States and especially by The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Physicians have access to libel and slander laws if information is incorrectly reported about their practices and it is shocking that a federal agency would threaten a reporter on behalf of a physician at the request of the physician’s attorney. .

  2. Pingback: Former Practitioner Data Banks official says HRSA ‘erroneously interpreting the law’ : Covering Health

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