Medical Symbol
Journalists no longer have access to the database of complaints against doctors. Image: Flickr / vectorportal / CC-BY

In September of this year, the National Practitioner Data Bank was closed to public access. The database tracks all healthcare disciplinary actions, malpractice complaints and other complaints against practitioners.

The National Practitioner Data Bank

Between 1990 and Sept. 1, 2011, the National Practitioner Data Bank provided a Public Use File of all complaints in the database. The Public Use File stripped all identifying information out of the file but published all complaints. The database was intended as a way to identify “problem practitioners” that state medical boards or insurance companies failed to identify on their own.

Database shut down after journalist connections

The Department of Health and Human Services shut down public access to the NPDB “in response to a doctor’s complaint,” according to the New York Times. Several other reports indicated that the database was shut down when a newspaper journalist was about to publish a story that connected the non-identifying information in the public database to identifiable information in other places and identified doctors with multiple complaints who had not been censured by the state board of health. The alleged story was never published, and the concern of problem practitioners still exists.

Journalists blocked from further access

Though several prominent journalistic groups lobbied for the return of the NPDB, journalists will be blocked from the usage of the public file now that it is back. These groups included the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The administrator in charge of the database highlighted that federal law does not allow for confidential information to be used to identify doctors in the database. Should any individual combine the public database with other information to identify a problem doctor, the agency will “ask for the data to be returned.” Reportedly, non-identifying information such as trends or patient safety will not trigger a request for the return of the information.


National Practitioner Data Bank
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