Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys have long been proponents of open and honest information being shared with patients about those who provide them medical care. That is why we advocated strongly for the “Patients Right to Know” Act in Illinois, which provides a wealth of individualized information to patients about their medical providers. Illinoisans can now discover how long their doctors have been licensed, where they went to school, what their specialties are, and whether they’ve had legal cases filed or settled alleging Illinois medical malpractice. Nothing should be feared from open and honest information. The website that provides this information to local patients is already live, and hundreds of thousands use the data to make more informed medical choices.
The Patient’s Right to Know Act was a state bill that provided information about state doctors. As we’ve previously mentioned, there are somewhat similar data collections done at the federal level, but the access to that data is much more limited. Previously, certain data was made available only in a cumulative way and it does not provide any information about certain doctors. However, some enterprising journalists were able to use the cumulative data and piece together news stories to uncover a series of caregiving lapses. For example, the Kansas City Star was able to identify a doctor who had a long history of medical malpractice allegations who was never disciplined by the state. To most logical observers, this was an example of solid journalism whereby a potentially important public policy issue was uncovered and brought to light.
Yet, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) which provides the cumulative federal data on healthcare quality thought that it went too far. As a consequence of the reporter’s calling out the medical oversight groups for lax treatment, the HRSA decided to completely remove all public access to its database. Apparently, protecting a single doctor with continuous medical malpractice claims was more important than providing crucial information to community members nationwide. It was quite a disappointing development.
Rightly so, the HRSA came under intense scrutiny for its botched handling of the matter and the terrible message that it sent about openness and honesty in the medical caregiving process. As reported in FedLine, the HRSA has recently returned the database information about poorly performing doctors to the public. However, they have attached strings to the data availability. The information, known as the National Practitioner’s Database, apparently cannot be used in combination with any other information or reposted. The absurdity of this limitation is apparent on its face. It is patently ridiculous for a federal agency to provide publically collected information of important use to the public but only under the condition that they do not think about the information they receive in connection with other publically available information. One high ranking Senator, Chuck Grassley, has been a vocal opponent of the attempt to hide the database information. He notes that, “this agency needs to remember that half of all health care dollars in the United State comes from the taxpayers so the interpretation of the law ought to be for public benefit.”
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