Access Sought to Secret List of Sanctioned Doctors
In a database kept secret from patients, the government has recorded the names of nearly 500 doctors and dentists across the country who have been slapped with at least 10 disciplinary actions and malpractice payments over the last decade.
One of every seven U.S. doctors and one of every eight dentists has at least one malpractice payment or disciplinary report in the National Practitioners Data Bank, which the Department of Health and Human Services has been compiling since 1990.
Consumer advocates and a key congressional Republican are pressing to disclose the names to help patients shop for doctors. Medical experts oppose such a release, fearing the data are skewed by malpractice insurance settlements.
“I don’t feel that I’m dangerous to my patients at all. I feel like I’ve always acted in my patients’ best interests,” said Dr. Gary Hall, a Phoenix ophthalmologist who has paid $5.3 million in malpractice claims and is listed 27 times in the federal database.
Hall was censured last year by the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners, fined $15,000, placed on three years’ probation and barred from performing one type of eye surgery: radial keratotomy.
Being identified as one of the doctors with the most records in the database “makes you look very guilty,” he acknowledged. But he said most of his malpractice cases were settled by insurers “for economic reasons” without his consent.
The government provides a version of the database to the public, but it strips out the names of doctors and dentists and other identifying information.
Although many states disclose disciplinary actions against doctors, there is no national repository to check a practitioner’s history.
Rep. Thomas J. Bliley (R-Va.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, is considering releasing on the Internet the names of the 200 doctors and dentists with the worst records, a committee aide said.