Numbers reveal how often, or how rarely, states check doctors’ disciplinary records

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.

How often does your state medical board search doctors in the National Practitioner Data Bank?

Surprisingly not often, according to data provided to the Association of Health Care Journalists by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the data bank.

Get a spreadsheet showing how often each state medical board searches for doctors in the National Practitioner Data Bank. One worksheet shows information about physicians, the other shows information about residents and interns.

AHCJ and other media groups have been pushing the government to restore unfettered access to the Public Use File of the data bank, citing important stories that journalists have written about lax oversight of doctors by state medical boards.

State medical boards have access to complete information within the data bank about a doctor’s disciplinary history, hospital sanctions and malpractice payouts. The Public Use File, which had been available to reporters and researchers for years, provided the same information without identifying information about the doctors involved.

HRSA removed  the Public Use File from its website on Sept. 1 following complaints from a doctor that a reporter from The Kansas City Star inappropriately used it to identify him. The agency restored the file last week, but with new restrictions that seek to bar reporters from using it with other data sets to identify physicians. AHCJ and other media groups call the new restrictions unworkable and an unconstitutional prior restraint.

AHCJ requested data from HRSA so reporters could see how often their states check the backgrounds of MDs and DOs, as well as interns and residents. The numbers are available in two different charts. Beyond that, HRSA said, three state boards have a relationship with HRSA in which they automatically get updates when new information is entered on a physician. They are: Nevada (DO), Oregon (MD) and Pennsylvania (MD).

“I encourage journalists to look up their state medical boards in our chart and see how often they consult the data bank,” AHCJ President Charles Ornstein said. “If they are not looking physicians up, they should be asked how they are sure they are protecting the public from dangerous or incompetent doctors.”

HRSA spokesman Martin Kramer said in an email that,

HRSA is also working proactively to protect the public by reducing potential barriers for State licensing boards to receive NPDB information.

One step that HRSA took in the past year was to conduct a small pilot study with the Federation of State Medical Boards to determine if hospitals and medical malpractice payers send a copy of  the NPDB report, as required, to the licensing board.

To assure that Medical Boards receive the hospital and medical malpractice payment reports, in January 2012 the reporters (hospitals and medical malpractice payers) will be able to send an electronic copy to the State medical board through the NPDB.

We believe this change will be cost saving and time effective for the reporters and State medical boards.”

For more background, this timeline tracks the story:

2 thoughts on “Numbers reveal how often, or how rarely, states check doctors’ disciplinary records

  1. Pingback: Journalism organizations ask HRSA to clarify how it will exercise restrictions : Covering Health

  2. Pingback: Good riddance to all that | HealthBeat

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