Federal Health Agency Takes Side of Multi-Sued Surgeon
A Kansas neurosurgeon who has been sued at least 16 times for malpractice has been able to enlist one important ally in protecting his privacy: the federal agency that runs the data bank that is supposed to keep track of dangerous doctors so they don't drift from hospital to hospital without their track record becoming known to hospitals who hire them.
The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is run by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. It has both a public mission and a confidential one. The confidential mission is to allow hospitals to query the data base to obtain the track record of lawsuit payouts and disciplinary actions against doctors so they can make an intelligent decision about whether to bring a doctor onto their staff. The data bank also publishes aggregate data, without individual identifiers, about the doctors it keeps an eye on, so the public can see that it is doing its job.
A reporter for the Kansas City Star used the public data on the NPDB, among other resources, to figure out the lawsuit record of neurosurgeon Robert Tenny.
As shown by newly released documents, Dr. Tenny responded with a flurry of letters to the federal agency, which responded with:
* A threat against the newspaper reporter to punish him with fines for misusing the data bank. (This was later withdrawn.)
* Stern letters to all the 28 hospitals who had queried the data bank about Dr. Tenny to warn them that the information they had obtained on him was confidential and not to be disclosed.
* Shutting down the public access portion of the data bank.
The shutdown of all public data from the data bank has caused the most outcry, with a bunch of journalist organizations demanding that it be reinstated.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa released documents this week showing the cozy relationship between Dr. Tenny and the federal agency. You can read the documents by clicking here.