PHYSICIAN DATABASE: House Hears Patient Access Argument
At the behest of House Commerce Chair Tom Bliley (R-Va.), a Commerce subcommittee today will delve into the issue of medical errors as it hears arguments over granting patients access to the National Practitioner Database that contains information on disciplinary actions and malpractice cases against health professionals over the last 10 years. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sponsored the 1986 legislation that created the database, has long contended that the public should have access to that information, which currently is only available to hospitals and other professional groups. At a briefing yesterday, committee spokesperson Steve Schmidt said that although Bliley had yet to make a decision, "he comes to the hearing of the mindset that it is a very good idea" for patients to access the information.
American Medical Association President Thomas Reardon said that while his organization believes patients should have access to information regarding doctors who are sanctioned by the state medical boards, it opposes public access to the database. Reardon argued that the database contains "raw data" including settlements in malpractice suits in which negligence has not been proven. "That would be misleading," Reardon said. Some believe that Bliley's "sudden interest' in opening the database stems from his anger at the AMA for supporting the Democratic version of the Patients' Bill of Rights. While Schmidt called that assertion "just silly," Reardon said if that is true, then "we've come to a sorry state of affairs when they potentially punish constituents for having differences of opinion" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 3/1).
In other medical error news, the American Association of Health Plans this week "broke with hospital and physician groups" when its board of directors endorsed the Administration-backed Institute of Medicine recommendations for mandatory reporting of serious medical errors. Supporting the plan, AAHP said that "a national system with uniform reporting criteria is needed to address the underlying systemic causes of serious medical errors and to ensure that such errors are reported by the responsible individuals and institutions." Both the AMA and the American Hospital Association oppose the proposal (CongressDaily/A.M., 3/1).