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Paul Thomson
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Database of Medical Malpractice Unavailable to the Public

7 comments

Tulsa World reported that there is a national database of medical malpractice data that the public is unable to fully access. The database is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and includes about 460,000 records of malpractice lawsuits. However, the public can only view the lawsuit’s allegations and the patient’s health, while the remaining information is only open to hospitals, managed care organizations, and state licensing agencies.

The American Medical Association believes the information should remain private because it is unreliable. Supposedly, data is often submitted late and some of the information is untrue or misleading. The AMA argues that it is a flawed program. However, many individuals believe that this is just a way to protect doctors. The information should be available to the public because people have a right to know if their physician has been involved in a medical malpractice claim. Medical professionals need to be held accountable and potential patients should not be kept in the dark. If the patient is able to obtain this information he or she can then question their doctor about it and make an informed decision as to whether they wish to remain under the doctor’s care.

7 Comments

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  1. Kathleen Cunningham says:
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    To Whom It May Concern,

    The fact that the National Practitioner Data Bank is unavailable to the public has always been an issue with me. If I wanted to buy a washer and dryer I could get on the internet and get thousands of hits with information to help me make an informed choice. If I need brain surgery and want to find a qualified physician, I’m screwed. Something is very wrong with this picture.

  2. Robert Oshel says:
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    I retired last year from my position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as Associate Director for Research and Disputes for the National Practitioner Data Bank, so I have some expertise when it comes to the NPDB.

    Despite what the AMA may claim in its efforts to keep the NPDB’s reports secret or even to abolish the NPDB, the facts are that most reports are filed in a timely fashion and that reports are accurate. The NPDB software traps many inaccuracies before reports are accepted into the Data Bank, and reported practitioners are sent copies of all new reports and have an opportunity to dispute reports they believe are not accurate. Errors get corrected.

    If the data wasn’t accurate, users wouldn’t find it useful and wouldn’t buy it — they have to pay for all queries to the NPDB. But in fact hospitals and others who can access the data find it extremely useful. The last completed national survey of Data Bank users found that about 9 percent of the time users learned something new from an NPDB report that affected their licensing or credentialing decision. Since NPDB reports should contain nothing that physicians haven’t already revealed on their applications, this percentage is truly amazing and highlights the usefulness of the NPDB in ensuring that reviewers have all relative information on practitioners’ records, not just what they want to disclose themselves.

    Based on my 15 years experience with the NPDB, I’ve concluded that Congress should change the law to make the NPDB’s information public. I also believe the AMA needs to do more to encourage peer reviewers and state licensing boards to take stronger action against the approximately 2 percent of physicians who are responsible for over half of all the dollars paid out for malpractice. Doing so would not only save money, it would prevent injuries and save lives. The current AMA position seems better suited to protecting the relatively few bad physicians than to protecting the public and the vast majority of competent physicians.

  3. Kathleen Cunningham says:
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    Thank you, Mr. Oshel for supporting that the NPDB be made public. I have been investigating medical malpractice claims for almost 20 years now and I know from personal experience that medical documents get altered, much more than we would like to think. If the practitioner is given a chance to review the reports for accuracy, shouldn’t the patient or his representative be able to do the same?

  4. Jim O'Hare AIC AIS VP med mal claims says:
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    The data bank was a good idea way back when, to keep docs from moving from state to state after wearing out there litigation welcome in state “A”, only to continue bad medicine in another state. In 25 years of adjusting med mal claims , I have only paid the aggregate policy on 3 docs, all three plastics docs. They ran away, got out of dodge and started over in a far away state. The data bank caught two of these guys and the third retired. It worked. Asking for more is tricky.
    Working with a med mal insurance company, I have very little access to the data bank other than reporting. It would be great if I could explore other reports to weed out prospective bad insurance risks. Many physicians would not be able to find coverage if we were allowed to do this. So I understand the reasons for limited access. Allowing access to the public would have those with little info on a subject, warp that info into something larger. We all know the dangers of acting strongly with a perceived understanding based on a little bit of info. Iraq for a poor example. Keeping the Data bank around to keep vagabond bad docs from hurting people nationwide should be enough. Check for state reporting if you want to investigate a treater. Unfortunately, i have had to report many docs to the data bank that did not belong there. That may sound goofy to many from the plaintiffs bar, but consider the many times that you have accepted money from a carrier for a non target defendant physician, when you had very little liability or causation, but maybe big damages and a sympathetic witness. Those docs get into the Data bank and can never get out. regards Jim

  5. Robert Oshel says:
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    Concerning Mr. O’Hare’s comment about malpractice insurance companies having little access to the National Practitioner Data Bank and that it would be useful if they could see reports, he is correct that malpractice insurers are not permitted to query the NPDB.

    However, there is nothing in law or regulations that prevent malpractice insurers from requiring that applicants for insurance provide them with a copy of the results of an NPDB self-query. Physicians can get a copy of their own NPDB record (or a confirmation that they don’t have any reports) at any time, and they can give this information to insurers. So if Mr. O’Hare’s company wants NPDB information, it can get it, but indirectly through its insureds or applicants.

  6. Kathleen Cunningham says:
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    I understand the reasons for the AMA wanting to keep the information from the public, but investigating a physician through the medical board or the Federation of State Medical Boards is simply not enough. If you look at the members of these boards with disciplinary authority, you will see that the vast majority are physicians. We all know that docs are not very good at policing each other. Very few lay people sit on these boards. Physicians who have a disciplinary action, license revcation, suspension or limitation listed with the state medical board, usually have had consequences of unethical or criminal behavior, not poor quality care.

    I find that the information available on state medical board websites/directories is not sufficient to get a full picture of a physician. Just because a physician has no disciplinary actions listed with the board does not mean that he/she is a good physician. In this business we have all known of cases of incompetent and potentially dangerous doctors looking clean as a whistle on their state medical board pages.

    In order for consumers to make informed choices regarding a care provider, they clearly need more information than what is currently available to the public.

  7. Jim O'Hare AIC AIS VP med mal claims says:
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    How do you know if someone is good whether attorney, plumber or doctor?. Tough call. Just relying on state reports, the dept of Health or angies list, is not effective and are poor measuring tools.

    Your best assessment is to meet with the Doc and see if he has time for you and communicates. An administrative personality has been found to be preferable to an entrepeneurial personality as an insurance risk. The gunslinger approach we avoid. Educational pedigree or country of training has been found to be relatively unimportant.

    If I ever needed complex cardiac surgery, the physician that I would select, would never be chosen by a lay person, strictly based on the amount of litigation in his jacket. This Doc is a gifted surgeon that takes the cases others avoid. If you just rely on state reports you would be making the biggest mistake of your life.

    Word of mouth and asking questions are your best bets. How many of these surgeries have you done? etc. Do you connect with the doc and are your questions and expectations crystal clear prior to retention.

    You would be totally surprised at what factors prove to be a great insurance risk. 88% of cases are caused by 14% of the docs. Be an educated consummer.