Can an administration claim it is passionate about “unleashing” the federal government's healthcare data while simultaneously cutting off access to long-available healthcare information? Yes it can.
Moments after touting the Obama administration's unprecedented efforts to open up access to Medicare data in a speech to attendees of a Washington gathering of government and private sector IT professionals, Todd Park, chief technology officer at HHS, defended the government shutting from public view a national database that chronicles physicians' malpractice fines and sanctions.
“One of our paramount parameters is we can't violate privacy and we can't violate the law, obviously,” Park told Modern Healthcare. “So, the reason we took the database down is because it literally violated the law.”
Federal officials recently removed online access—after 15 years—to the Health Resources and Services Administration's National Practitioner Data Bank, which chronicles physician sanctions, because of concerns that members of the media and the public could find ways to identify the unnamed physicians it contains.
Asked about the seeming contradiction between claims of unprecedented openness and the administration blocking the databank, Park said the administration had no choice.
Consumer advocates, such as Consumers Union, dispute that point. The group wrote the HRSA on Sept. 15 to point out that since the file does not contain any information identifying physicians, it does not violate confidentiality requirements. Government representatives have pointed out that no law requires online posting of the database, and individuals may still file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information from it.
As for Park, he said restoring online access to the database remains one of his department's highest priorities, even if it remains unknown when that will happen.