Physicians will no longer be notified if someone is checking their record in the Health Resources and Services Administration's National Practitioner Data Bank, according to an HHS final rule (PDF) to be posted in the Federal Register tomorrow.
New doc database rule expands protection for law enforcement
The rule, which was proposed on Feb. 17, will exempt the use of NPDB information from certain provisions of the Privacy Act, including those that mandate notifying a physician if their information has been requested as part of a criminal, civil or regulatory investigation; allowing individuals who are the subject of an investigation to correct or amend their information; and letting individuals know—upon their request—if the NPDB contains information on them.
If individuals were being notified of an investigation, it "could reveal the nature and scope of the investigation and could lead to the destruction or alteration of evidence, tampering with witnesses and other evasive actions that could impede or compromise an investigation," according to the final rule.
Also, according to the rule, physicians should already be receiving a copy of any disciplinary reports that a hospital or other entity is filing about them and procedures are in place to correct or amend these reports.
Furthermore, law enforcement information requests make up less than 1% of total queries and HRSA receives about 20 such queries a year, according to the agency.
It was also noted in the rule that, under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986, entities eligible to view information in the NPDB include: hospitals and other healthcare entities that conduct peer review; state medical, dental and other healthcare practitioner boards; state licensing authorities; agencies administering federal and state healthcare programs (including private entities administering such programs under contract); and state Medicaid fraud-control units and other law enforcement agencies.
A 60-day comment period on the final rule closed on April 18.
HRSA maintains a public-use file in which de-identified information is kept for use in statistical analysis and the identification of trends. The agency closed the file after a Kansas City Star reporter figured out the identity of a doctor by matching information in the public file to court records. The agency has since reopened the file but with restrictions that are being challenged by journalism organizations, the Public Citizen consumer advocacy group and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.