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$9.95 per discipline search? Free is better, says public interest group

Investigative journalists at the New York-based organization ProPublica announced in January the online publication of two comprehensive state-by-state guides to researching disciplinary actions, one for doctors and one for nurses nurses.

A simple fact prompted ProPublica to assemble the “recipe” for researching disciplinary records, says the public interest group: “There is no free and open national database that allows the public to scrutinize the qualifications of doctors and nurses.”

In compiling their guides, the ProPublica journalists found that every state licensing board provides the public with basic license verification, often including whether or not practitioners have been disciplined. But 16 medical and nursing boards withhold key details of misconduct and errors. A 2010 study by ProPublica found that the federal database, the National Practitioner Data Bank, also falls far short of complete, likely omitting thousands of disciplinary actions.

Some boards say the fees from requests for disciplinary searches are necessary because they rely on the income —also the reason cited by the Federation of State Medical Boards for its $9.95 per search fee, ProPublica reports.

A few boards provide a one-sentence summary of disciplinary action without details, while some see a difference between “public” records and “publicized.” “We just don’t put it out there probably because of privacy issues,” said one board administrator.

The ProPublica guides for discipline research are available here.