GAO Report Cites Flaws with Practitioner Database
The General Accounting Office released a report yesterday calling the controversial National Practitioner Data Bank (a database containing the medical histories of physicians nationwide) "inaccurate, incomplete or inappropriate," USA Today reports. According to the GAO report, "Information may not be as accurate, complete or timely as it should be," and some data "could confuse or mislead" patients (Davis, USA Today, 12/1). As a result, the argument to open the database for public scrutiny -- a fight undertaken by retiring House Commerce Committee Chair Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) -- may prove "more difficult to win." A Bliley spokesperson called the GAO report "nothing new," adding that administrative problems "would be addressed" before opening the data bank to the public. While Bliley has proposed legislation to open the database, it remains uncertain whether any of the bill's cosponsors will renew the fight next year (Fulton, CongressDaily, 11/30).
In the past, Bliley repeatedly has called it "unconscionable that consumers have more comparative information about the used car they purchase or the snack foods they eat than the doctors in whose care they entrust their health [and] well-being." The American Medical Association has lobbied against releasing the records, arguing that the data does not reflect the "competency or quality" of doctors (American Health Line, 7/3). According to AMA officials, Bliley has pushed for legislation to open the database to "punish" the group for backing the House version of the managed care reform bill that would allow patients to sue HMOs (American Health Line, 9/11).
According to the GAO report, HRSA, the agency that runs the database, lacks a "coherent strategy for systematically addressing the areas of (underreporting of physician disciplinary actions that are of the) greatest significance." The report also suggests that the data bank may contain flawed information because HRSA has not established any set standards for submitted data (CongressDaily, 11/30). Groups that oppose opening the database to the public argue that the report reveals a "flawed data system." Calling the data bank "up there in the useless category," William Tipton, head of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, said, "This confirms our worst fears. While this may have set out with good intentions, it somehow lost its focus." While HRSA admits that it could make "improvements" to the database, the agency called the information "accurate" and insisted that "fixes are underway." HRSA spokesperson Thomas Morford said, "Is it the perfect answer? Absolutely not. But it's done its proper share" (USA Today, 12/1). To view the GAO report, go to http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/fetchrpt?rptno=gao-01-130. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat to view the report.