Malpractice cases go unreported to data bank

A report recommends that three federal health agencies create a process to address such cases.

By Damon Adams — Posted Nov. 7, 2005

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Government agencies have failed to report nearly 500 medical malpractice cases to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a move that has lessened the data bank's effectiveness, a new report says.

Failing to report the cases deprived state medical boards and hospitals of useful information to make licensing and credentialing decisions on physicians, according to the October report from the Dept. of Health and Human Services' inspector general.

A 1990 HHS policy directive calls for all settled or adjudicated HHS medical malpractice cases to be reported to the NPDB, said Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson. But between June 1997 and September 2004, three HHS agencies did not report 474 cases. Those agencies were Indian Health Service, Health Resources and Services Administration (which manages the data bank), and National Institutes of Health.

Several factors led to the underreporting, including lost files, incomplete file information and the failure to replace a key claims official who handled NPDB reporting duties.

"Underreporting of the department's own medical malpractice cases lessens the usefulness of the NPDB and undermines departmental efforts to regulate private- and public-sector compliance with NPDB requirements," Levinson wrote.

The report recommends that the three agencies implement a process to address unreported cases, improve internal controls involving case file management and assign staff to assume responsibility for data entry of reports to the NPDB.

HRSA Administrator Betty James Duke said in a memo that recommendations would be made to ensure greater compliance of reporting.

The data bank has had problems in the past. In 2000, a General Accounting Office report found that it was inaccurate and incomplete. A 2001 report by the HHS inspector general said HMOs and hospitals seldom reported disciplinary actions.

Dale Austin, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Federation of State Medical Boards, said he hopes federal health agencies improve their reporting of cases.

"When a medical regulatory board is looking for information, the more accurate and complete the report is, the more beneficial it is," he said.

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External links

Dept. of Health and Human Services Agencies' Compliance With the National Practitioner Data Bank Malpractice Reporting Policy, in pdf (link)

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