Iowa Sen. Grassley joins fight to reopen National Practitioner Data Bank

The Kansas City StarNovember 4, 2011 

A ranking U.S. senator on Thursday demanded that the government reopen a public website with data on malpractice and disciplinary cases involving thousands of the nation’s doctors.

Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the government’s decision to shut down the website — made after The Kansas City Star used it in part to investigate local doctors with long histories of alleged malpractice — was designed to protect a doctor named in the story, and not the public.

The shutdown “flies in the face of (the) mandate to enhance the quality of health care,” Grassley said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

An HHS spokesman declined to comment.

The public database — maintained as part of the National Practitioner Data Bank — remains unavailable for general use, as it has been since the department shut off access Sept. 1.

Medical boards, hospitals and other health care institutions use detailed, confidential information from the data bank to decide whether to grant licenses and staff privileges and for other purposes.

The data bank separately maintains a public database primarily used by researchers. The public database, which is designed to maintain the anonymity of doctors, does not include their names; instead, they’re identified by randomly assigned numbers.

This summer, Star reporter Alan Bavley prepared a story based on information from the public database. He found that 21 doctors had spotless Kansas and Missouri licenses despite lengthy histories of malpractice payments. He also was able to identify one of the doctors, Johnson County neurosurgeon Robert Tenny, by comparing public database information with publicly available court records.

The story, published Sept. 4, said Tenny had been sued by patients or their families at least 17 times since 1983. While denying the allegations, Tenny eventually settled at least seven of those lawsuits, according to court records, including a recent brain surgery malpractice claim for more than $1 million. Despite that record, Kansas licensing officials have not taken action against him.

Other newspapers for a decade have identified doctors in the database, but the government took no action to close it.

After the government shut down the database Sept. 1, Grassley wrote HHS, asking for information about the decision and copies of correspondence related to the issue.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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