Public agency prioritizes physician privacy over patient safety
The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is a database of public information about state-level physician discipline and malpractice actions. The database helps keep patients safe by making medical malpractice transparent to journalists and the wider public.
It’s understandable, then, that consumer-advocacy and journalism organizations such as the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) reacted with outrage last month when the Department of Health and Human Services removed the NPDB from its website. The agency cited concerns over physician privacy, saying it would make the database available again after reviewing it to assure doctors’ confidentiality. But the protesting organizations say the database itself doesn’t reveal doctors’ identities, and that obscuring the physician-discipline process effectively puts the public in danger.
Charles Ornstein, president of the AHCJ, told The New York Times that “[r]eporters across the country have used the public use file to write stories that have exposed serious lapses in the oversight of doctors that have put patients at risk.”
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