What is the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)?
According to the NPDB website, it is an “electronic information repository created by Congress. It contains information on medical malpractice payments and certain adverse actions related to health care practitioners, entities, providers, and suppliers.”
Unfortunately, the reports containing this vital information, which are contained within this repository, are confidential and not available to the public. Further, the data bank is virtually useless because under federal law the doctors are not even listed by name, they are assigned a random number to protect their identities.
It is odd that the mission of the NPDB is to “improve health care quality, protect the public, and reduce health care fraud and abuse in the U.S,” yet the very information that can protect patients is shielded from the public.
Most people are not even aware that this data bank exist. Why have a data bank containing such useful information if society does not have access to it?
The reason why this data needs to be accessible to the public is because it can assist patients in determining the quality of care that they receive.
A study published in January 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 1% of physicians accounted for 32% of paid medical malpractice claims over the past 10 years.
The study analyzed over 66,000 claims paid against over 54,000 physicians between 2005 and 2014. Researchers noted the small number of “bad doctors” showed distinctive characteristics, including having paid previous malpractice claims. The study found that the ability to reliably identify these doctors at an early stage could guide efforts to improve care.
Shockingly, the study found that one physician had at least 31 malpractice payments between 1993 and 2005, totaling over 10 million in damages. Another physician, had at least 21 malpractice payments between 1992 and 2003, including eight improperly performed surgeries, three unnecessary surgeries and two surgeries on the wrong body part. Neither of these doctors faced disciplinary action from a state medical board, according to the database.
Usually, a negligent doctor’s insurance company pays the victim of malpractice, and then the doctor goes back to work. If he leaves the state where he practices, there may be no way for the public to know of his history of malpractice.
Shielding negligent doctor’s harms patients and does nothing to further the mission of the NPDB. It is time for the NPDB to be open to the public.