Recently analyzed data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) found that less than two percent of doctors practicing in the United States have been responsible for nearly 50 percent of the total malpractice payouts made in the years since the government began collecting malpractice information. In those years, roughly $85 billion has been paid in malpractice payouts. The analysis was done by patient-safety advocate Robert E. Oshel for Consumer Reports.
The new report, which appears in the May issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org, shows that people looking for a new doctor would have a tough time discovering whether their doctor was on probation for issues ranging from malpractice to sexual misconduct to drug addiction. Titled “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You,” the report shows how thousands of doctors are currently practicing medicine while being on probation for these very issues. The report also covers how difficult and time-consuming it can be for consumers to discover which doctors are on the lists.
The National Practitioner Data Bank is a federal repository that includes disciplinary actions taken by hospitals, state boards, and other healthcare agencies as well as malpractice payouts. Currently, only doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, law enforcement, and a few other groups hare able to access NPDB data. A survey by Consumer Reports finds that 82 percent of Americans are in favor of greater transparency, but state medical boards and the American Medical Association have opposed those efforts.
Consumer Reports has started the Safe Patient Project to make it easier for patients to learn about their doctors’ disciplinary history. The organization is pushing for policy reforms in five key areas that would make the system more transparent for consumers. Key to that effort would be making information from the NPDB on physicians’ malpractice payouts and disciplinary records open to the public. Currently, consumers must rely on their state medical board for this information.
The Safe Patient Project also advocates that doctors on probation should be required to tell patients that they are being disciplined and explain why. Roughly two-thirds of the participants in the Consumer reports survey favored barring doctors from seeing patients until their probationary period ends. It is also believed that state boards should be more aggressive in pulling the licenses of doctors who present a clear danger to patients. These efforts could considerably reduce malpractice payouts by exposing bad actors in the medical profession sooner instead of shielding them from public scrutiny.