Statement by HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N. on the National Practitioner Data Bank Public Use File
November 9, 2011
The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is a critical tool in our nation's efforts to protect patients from incompetent, unprofessional, and often dangerous health care practitioners.
Since its creation in 1986, the NPDB collects reports on medical malpractice payments, certain medical review actions, and sanctions by Boards of Medical Examiners. Each year, the NPDB provides information to approximately 16,000 hospitals, health care entities, and State and Federal agencies with information about 800,000 license and hospital disciplinary reports and past malpractice payment reports for clinicians.
By law, the confidential information in those reports is available only to hospitals, health care entities, boards of medical examiners or other State licensing boards, and to practitioners requesting information about themselves. The NPDB statute (42 U.S.C. § 11137) ensures that the track record of clinicians is known to the organizations that need to know the most - the hospitals that are considering hiring them or the licensing board that must decide whether to license them to practice in a State.
HRSA is committed to providing information about the Data Bank to the public. For the past 10 years, HRSA has posted a Public Use Data File (PUF) for the Data Bank that supplies de-identified information to researchers, journalists and others to use to report on trends in patient safety and State reporting.
On September 1, 2011, HRSA removed the Public Use Data File from the NPDB website after finding that information in the Public Use Data File could be used to identify individual practitioners. HRSA is required, by law, to provide the information in a form that does not permit the identification of individual practitioners or health care entities. When we made this decision, we also made clear that we were committed to restoring the PUF to the NPDB website with appropriate protections so that critically important research can continue.
HRSA has now reposted the Public Use Data File for the National Practitioner Data Bank on the NPDB website. This is the same public use data file - with updated information - that had been posted until September 1. In order to access the PUF, users will now be asked to review and agree to a Data Use Agreement (DUA) that spells out specifics of how the data provided in the PUF may be used in accordance with the law.
Under the DUA, if HRSA learns that data has been used in a way that identifies a provider, HRSA will ask for the data to be returned. Using the data to identify a provider violates the legal requirement to keep the information confidential. Similarly, data made available under the DUA cannot be reposted or further disclosed nor can it be combined with other data to identify a provider. It can, however, be used in statistical analysis and reporting if individuals are not identified. Thus for example, an article that talks about trends in malpractice or disciplinary actions that includes unidentified data to support the conclusions would be consistent with the data use agreement.
HRSA and HHS have acted aggressively to protect public safety through expanding the information kept within the NPDB. We have taken steps to improve patient safety by making more information available to hospitals, health care entities, and State licensing boards than at any other time in the history of the Data Bank.
Secretary Sebelius was the first HHS Secretary to publish a list of State agencies that fail to meet the Data Bank reporting requirements. She also took the unprecedented step of calling on Governors to do their part to assure that State reports to the Data Bank are complete and accurate. Through these extensive efforts, we have received more than 16,000 State licensure reports on health professions that had never been reported before.
We have also used technology to compare the Data Bank with publicly available disciplinary information resulting in more than 10,000 additional disciplinary reports on physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, podiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. As a result, hospitals, health care entities, and States now have more information, that was not previously available, to use when making important hiring or licensing decisions. This helps to protect patients and the public because we have more information to prevent practitioners from hiding their past when they move to a new State.
We are committed to further strengthening the utility of the Data Bank, the availability of data that can be used for important statistical analyses, and ensuring that statutory obligations that protect provider confidentiality are maintained. Patients deserve no less.
Note (added May 06, 2013): References to the NPDB and NPDB data on this page refer to a subset of NPDB data prior to the NPDB and HIPDB merger implementation date of May 6, 2013. Pre-merger NPDB data include reports collected under the authority of Title IV of Public Law 99-660 or Section 1921 of the Social Security Act, and 45 CFR Part 60 as enforced prior to May 6, 2013. The original text of the letter above was posted on November 9, 2011, and so applies to the pre-merger NPDB.