Sen. Grassley Joins Chorus Pressuring HHS to Reopen Doctor Database

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Monday, October 17, 2011

As more journalism and medical research professionals have asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reopen an online public database of instances of medical malpractice, a powerful figure from Capitol Hill is asking the agency for answers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee, recently sent a letter to HHS asking why the public portion of the database was taken offline.

We have previously discussed the partial shutdown of the medical malpractice database in this blog, most recently in our Oct. 4 post. The database in question is called the National Practitioner Data Bank. Prior to Sept. 1, some of the information on the database was available to the public for download. Journalists and academics routinely used the public portion, which did not include names of the physicians, to confirm and supplement their research into instances of medical malpractice.

Though medical journalists say this was a regular practice, the public portion was shut down by Health Resources and Services Administration, the division of HHS that administers the database, after it learned a reporter from the Kansas City Star had accessed it while researching an article about how the Missouri board deals physicians who had made payouts for medical malpractice. Currently, people who want information must submit a request to HRSA for approval.

Since then, several journalism and patient safety advocates have asked HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius to restore online access. In a letter sent earlier in October, Sen. Grassley said that taking away public access to medical malpractice information “undermines the critical mission of identifying inefficiencies within our health care system.” He called for HHS officials to appear at a Judiciary Committee hearing to explain the decision, and included several questions in the letter, which he gave an Oct. 21 for a reply.

Source: Kansas City Star, “Senator demands that U.S. agency explain shutdown of doctor database,” Alan Bavley, Oct. 16, 2011

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