If the TV talking heads on the presidential election failed to provide your quota of blather and posturing, you could have satisfied your craving with reaction to the recent General Accounting Office report on the National Practitioner Data Bank. The report said the databank, used by hospitals and insurers to credential physicians, is poorly managed and may include inaccurate and incomplete information (Dec. 4, p. 12).
The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association quickly seized on these unflattering conclusions. The AMA, through immediate past President Thomas Reardon, M.D., crowed that this proved what it said all along: The databank is "seriously flawed" and unnecessary. The AHA wailed that the government's reporting guidelines contribute to underreporting of physician misconduct and inaccuracies.
This is a little like the Corleone family complaining about inept police work. Law enforcement officials may voice similar complaints, but they pursue a diametrically opposed objective.
Many AMA members simply hate the idea that malpractice suits and disciplinary actions against them are recorded somewhere, especially in a national repository. They would much rather toss a stick of dynamite at the databank than take out a wrench and fix it. These doctors have an accomplice in the hospitals that alter the way they discipline their staffs to avoid having to report negative information. Their whining about ambiguous guidelines is similarly disingenuous.
But the self-centered crowd that dominates the physician lobby, particularly the AMA, has strained its credibility this time. Congress created the databank in return for granting antitrust immunity to doctors who participate in peer review in good faith.
Coincidentally, the "it's all about me" doc lobby took a hit in a new study (Dec. 4, p. 3). That report says most physician-lobbyists focus almost entirely on economic issues and neglect national public health concerns.
One of those concerns ought to be the quick dissemination of accurate data on medical practitioners to hospitals and insurers. And if the physician lobby and its hospital pals could see beyond their immediate self-interest, they would embrace the databank and advocate public access to it. The medical profession would gain public and governmental trust in the long run by exposing the bad apples.
They should work on that and leave the self-serving rhetoric to politicians.