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Our last post discussed recent changes to the ways in which the Department of Health and Human Services handles its records on doctors. The HHS database contains anonymous information about every doctor who is licensed to practice. Although doctors are not identified by name, each doctor’s profile contains general information about his her age range, years of practice, the state in which he or she practices, and information about any medical malpractice lawsuits or disciplinary actions taken by the hospital.
Previously, a smart investigative journalist could compare the information from the HHS database with court records, allowing him or her to identify and expose negligent doctors. The HHS now prohibits individuals from comparing information in the database with information found elsewhere.
So what does that mean for vulnerable patients? It means they have no way of knowing if the doctors who are operating on them have been charged with medical practice, and they likely have no way of finding out.
The ramifications are serious. Although most people hold themselves to high standards of practice, there are doctors who do not. There are doctors who have been forbidden from practicing in almost half of the country, but they are still maintaining active practices in the other states.
Practitioner No. 222117 may be the most frequently disciplined doctor in the country. “The doctor has been accused of violating drug laws, prescribing unauthorized medications, providing substandard care and obtaining licenses through fraud.” In a span of six years, more than 20 states revoked or suspended the doctor’s medical licenses.
The HHS banned the doctor from billing Medicare and Medicaid, and the DEA revoked the doctor’s license to prescribe controlled drugs.
Despite all the bad things that the doctor has done, the HHS forbids identifying the doctor and prohibits others from trying to figure out an identity. Doctor No. 222117 and more than 196,000 other doctors who have been charged with medical malpractice or disciplinary issues are protected by the HHS’s new rules.
So what changed? Why won’t the HHS allow individuals to use the information in the database to research deadly doctors? The answer isn’t clear. However, a few issues are clear. Doctor No. 222117 has made egregious errors, but the doctor isn’t the only who has caused multiple medical problems. Until individuals are allowed to do their own research, negligent doctors will be allowed to put the lives of innocent patients at risk, regardless of how much they are punished.
Source: The Kansas City Star, “Secrecy protects doctors with long histories of problems,” Alan Bavley, Dec. 17, 2011