Journalism and patient advocacy organizations are fighting against a recent decision by the Obama administration to shut down public access to an online database of doctor malpractice and disciplinary records.

The National Practitioner Data Bank has long been a resource for journalists, researchers and patient advocates working to expose dangerous trends in medical practices. The database never identified physicians by name — that is prohibited by law — but enterprising researchers and journalists have been able to combine the information they gleaned there with other records to report on specific physicians.

The Health Resources and Services Administration seems to believe researchers’ ingenuity and resourcefulness in using the system was reason enough to shut down the once-public information, saying, “It is important to understand that the law that created the National Practitioner Data Bank requires that information about individual practitioners [doctors, nurses, etc.] must remain confidential.”

In effect the agency seems to be saying it’s OK for the public to know about malpractice in a general, fuzzy way, but not in any way that would be of use to an individual in making medical choices. –BF

Los Angeles Times:

Most recently, the Kansas City Star published a story on Sept. 4 about physicians with long histories of alleged malpractice who had not been disciplined by the Kansas or Missouri medical boards.

That prompted HRSA to threaten the reporter with a fine and take down the database.

“It is important to understand that the law that created the National Practitioner Data Bank requires that information about individual practitioners [doctors, nurses, etc.] must remain confidential,” said HRSA spokesman Martin Kramer.

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