Health Inc.

When Health Providers Go Bad And We Don't Know It

Americans put a lot of trust in their doctors and nurses and other health care providers, but sometimes they don't act in our best interest. Like when they steal drugs or abuse patients, a la Nurse Jackie.

NPR Health Correspondent Joseph Shapiro has a piece on Morning Edition tomorrow about a secret government database that has a lot of this kind of information in it. The problem? We can't get into it.

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When doctors and nurses abuse these and us, shouldn't somebody know about it? iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Shapiro looks at the story of the Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank — a wonky-sounding thing that contains 22 years of historic data on health professionals' wrongdoing.

The consumer group Public Citizen is asking HHS to make the data more widely available.

Aside from the database, Shapiro says there have also been questions raised about how well the state boards designed to protect the public from these health care workers are doing their jobs.

A series of stories on this have run in the Los Angeles Times, including one showing that the California agency that's supposed to discipline egregious conduct takes "more than three years, on average, to investigate and discipline errant nurses, according to its own statistics."

One nurse was forced out of one hospital after he abused patients, but then went onto two more hospitals, where he was also accused of more abuse — something that may not have happened had the oversight board taken quicker action.

And doctors are in this, too. Their database is way more accessible, but Public Citizen found that hospitals find clever ways around requirements that they report a doctor's disciplinary action.

Just another example of how opaque the health system is.

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