Pressure Grows on HHS to Reopen Medical Malpractice Database

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More than a month after the federal government took down the portion of an online database of medical malpractice database that was available to the public, journalist and consumer protection groups are asking that the database be restored. The groups, which include Consumers Union and the Association of Health Care Journalists, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that protested the decision, which came after a Kansas City Star reporter used the database as a reference in a story about doctors’ medical malpractice records in Missouri.

We previously discussed the database, called the National Practitioner Data Bank, and HHS’ decision to remove its public portion from the Internet in our Sept. 20 blog post. Some information on the database, such as physicians’ history of discipline by the state medical board and medical malpractice lawsuits, was available for anyone to download.

Though journalists had routinely consulted the database to supplement information from court records, HHS removed the public portion on Sept. 1 after it learned that a Star reporter used the database this way. Instead, HHS recently announced, journalists would have to submit requests for specific information to the Health Resources and Services Administration, which administers the database, for officials’ approval.

In the letter to Sebelius, the groups said it was “troubling” that the government was potentially exercising prior restraint on medical malpractice stories. For example, officials reviewing a request for information may decide to deny it if he or she feels the story may make the HRSA look bad, the letter said.
A spokesman for HHS acknowledged the agency had received the letter but declined to comment.

Source: The Kansas City Star, “Groups urge Sebelius to reopen malpractice databank,” Alan Bavley, Sept. 28, 2011

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