WASHINGTON — Records in a secret government data bank that tracks malpractice payments and disciplinary actions against doctors are not as complete, accurate or timely as they should be, congressional investigators said Thursday.

The General Accounting Office said the Department of Health and Human Services has done little to address concerns that hospitals and other health care providers are not reporting all disciplinary actions they have taken against doctors.

Those disciplinary actions that are reported often contain inaccurate information or fail to explain adequately why the action was taken, the GAO said.

The agency also said that almost half the malpractice payment reports it studied were filed more than 30 days after they were due, and 95 percent did not note, as required by law, whether the standard of patient care had been considered when the claim was settled or adjudicated.

The databank was created by Congress a decade ago to provide a central clearinghouse for information on problem doctors. Patients are not allowed access to the information, which is used by hospitals, insurance companies and state licensing boards to keep tabs on incompetent physicians.

Dr. Thomas Reardon, past president of the American Medical Association, said the GAO report demonstrates that the data bank "is seriously flawed." He said state medical boards are the best source of information on physicians.

The GAO said insurance companies and health-care providers that are required to report disciplinary actions and malpractice payments are partially at fault for the inaccurate and incomplete records in the data bank.

But it said the HHS agency that administers the data bank also bears part of the blame because it has failed to establish clear criteria for what must be reported.


On the Net:

General Accounting Office report: www.gao.gov/

National Practitioner Data Bank: www.npdb-hipdb.com/