On September 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services removed public data on medical malpractice across the nation from a department-run website that had been used for years to help keep patients safe.
Since the 1990s, researchers, patient-safety advocates, insurers and the public had been able to view an online database - the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use Data File - of nationally reported information on medical malpractice, medical discipline and related issues, reports ConsumerAffairs.com. The database had been used to analyze medical malpractice payments, identify compliance issues and determine whether state medical boards disciplined doctors who acted in ways that created an "immediate threat" to patients' safety.
The information in the database was grouped into broad categories intended to prevent individual doctors or medical malpractice payments from being identifiable. Instead of providing doctors' names, ages or other possibly identifying information, the data was presented in ranges, such as ages 40-49, according to ParentAdvocates.org.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed the database early this fall, however, when it became aware that some newspapers had used the information to identify specific doctors whose medical malpractice payments were contained in the database.
A spokesperson for the HHS, Martin Kramer, said that the newspapers' reporting shows the "ability to triangulate on data bank data," which may run afoul of the database's legal requirement to keep the information confidential. The removal of public access to the database is a disappointment, though, as it was an important tool in the fight to protect patients from medical malpractice.