HHS, which is supposed to ensure that all U.S. hospitals report malpractice cases to the National Practitioner Data Bank, apparently has violated its own policy by failing to report 474 lawsuits filed against three government agencies, according to a report by the department's inspector general expected to be released today.
The report found that the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Indian Health Service and the National Institutes of Health failed to report 474 cases between June 1997 and September 2004, violating a directive that "all settled or adjudicated HHS medical malpractice cases must be reported to the NPDB. The HRSA runs the databank. Since the databank's official debut in 1990, HHS agencies have reported 257 medical malpractice cases to the databank, according to the report.
"Underreporting of the department's own medical malpractice cases lessens the usefulness of the NPDB and undermines departmental efforts to regulate private- and public-sector compliance with NPDB requirements," concludes the report, which called for the three agencies to take corrective action and improve internal controls to beef up the reporting process.
The NPDB collects information about malpractice cases as well as instances of hospital-based disciplinary actions against U.S. physicians. It has come under sharp criticism in recent years because the majority of U.S. hospitals have never reported a single instance of discipline. As of September 2004, the databank contained about 360,000 reports, about 264,000 of which were malpractice cases. The information is used by many hospitals in determining medical privileges. During the first nine months of 2004, the databank received more than 2.6 million requests for information.