Published On: 6.5.2014 Charlotte, NC

HHS Shielding Federal Docs From Malpractice Scrutiny

On behalf of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates


Two former high-ranking federal officials are alleging that HHS is trying to gain authority that would allow it to hide information on malpractice cases against some of its doctors — information that would be publicly reported if the incidents happened at community hospitals and clinics.

All payments for malpractice settlements are, in theory, reported to the public in the National Practitioner Data Bank. But the proposed policy would protect federally employed doctors, nurses and dentists with malpractice settlements when government officials independently decide that the clinicians met the appropriate standard of care. The HHS’ Office of Inspector General concluded several years ago that hundreds of federal malpractice claims appeared to have been omitted (PDF) from the databank already.

HHS officials won’t talk about the change publicly, except to acknowledge in a statement, “HHS is working on a resolution to this issue.”

Critics say the policy would give federal officials too much power to conceal questionable conduct by their own doctors, especially since all community hospitals are still required to disclose malpractice payments regardless of the circumstances.

“They’re saying to everyone in the private sector, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,'” said Robert Oshel, a retired associate director for the HHS’ division of practitioner databanks, which runs the NPDB. “It harms the utility of the databank. People rely on the databank’s information as being complete and accurate.”

Almost any doctor is susceptible to having a single malpractice claim filed against him or her, but many experts say a pattern of such cases is often more meaningful than isolated incidents, which is why detailed reporting of all cases is key.

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