Journalists Decry WH Decision to Pull Physicians’ Database

September 16, 2011
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Throughout one’s professional life as a physician, there are some things that are inevitable: changes to Medicare reimbursement schedules due to factors beyond our control, insurance denials, and the presence of the National Practitioner Data Bank — the omniscient arbiter of physician conformity and performance in the eyes of the public and watchdog groups. This latter factor is one many physicians manage to avoid, especially in this age of defensive medicine. But, sometimes lawsuits rear their ugly heads, and notifications of judgments follow the unfortunate clinician forever.

Throughout one’s professional life as a physician, there are some things that are inevitable: changes to Medicare reimbursement schedules due to factors beyond our control, insurance denials, and the presence of the National Practitioner Data Bank — the omniscient arbiter of physician conformity and performance in the eyes of the public and watchdog groups. This latter factor is one many physicians manage to avoid, especially in this age of defensive medicine. But, sometimes lawsuits rear their ugly heads, and notifications of judgments follow the unfortunate clinician forever.

The NYT is reporting that groups of journalists are protesting the Obama administration’s apparent decision to remove the database access from the Internet, at the same time, imposing fines for confidentiality breaches as sources for articles.

“Reporters across the country have used the public use file to write stories that have exposed serious lapses in the oversight of doctors that have put patients at risk,” Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists and a reporter for ProPublica, an investigative newsroom, said in an interview. “Their stories have led to new legislation, additional levels of transparency in various states, and kept medical boards focused on issues of patient safety.”

Having used ProPublica as a source for many an article or post here on Doctor Pundit; I, too, am understandably concerned. The feds say that the issue was whether more private information — as opposed to the public database — was accessed and that the response to the original complaint letter was sent directly to a journalist upon database takedown. Further, a division spokesman from within DHS explains

“We are going to do everything we can to get the data back up in a public use file as quickly as we possibly can,” Mr. Kramer said. “We want to make sure the public, researchers and reporters have access to all the information that we can legally make available.”

Seems that it would be in the best interest of the public to get this resolved as quickly as possible, and without significant “changes” made to the public file by a government agency.

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