Several journalism organizations are protesting the removal of The National Practitioner Data Bank, a government database of malpractice and disciplinary actions against doctors, from the internet.

Since 1986 the database has been used by hospitals, insurers and medical boards. Additionally, the "public use file" of the database is frequently utilized by journalists or researchers looking into medical malpractice and disciplinary actions as well as physician oversight. In the public use portion of the databank doctors' names and addresses are removed.

The Health Resource and Services Administration, which is an agency under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), blocked the public access after there were concerns about a reporter obtaining information from the non-public areas of the database. The reporter, however, clarified that he only accessed the public use file to obtain information.

Reporters and national journalism organizations have protested the removal of the database. The president of the Association of Health Care Journalists explained, "Reporters across the country have used the public use file to write stories that have exposed serious lapses in the oversight of doctors that have put patients at risk."

The agency is continuing to review the public use file to ensure physicians' privacy is protected. An agency spokesperson would not speculate about potential changes to the database, but stated that he hoped it would again be accessible to the public within six months.

In the meantime, ConsumerAffairs reports that the information on the database is accessible on a website run by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a group that obtains government information and makes it easier for reporters to access and use. Although traditionally IRE only allows member journalists to access its information, the IRE has opened up this information to the public.

Source: The New York Times, Withdrawal of Database on Doctors Is Protested, Duff Wilson, 15 September 2011