An article in the July issue of Hospital Peer Review, “NPDB Reporting Protected by Law in Some Cases, Gray Areas Problematic,” discussed hospitals’ obligations to report doctors to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and their protection against liability for doing so. Rivkin Radler’s Chris Kutner was quoted extensively in the article.

“In the matters in which I’ve been involved, the hospital or surgery center had no choice but to report. If they don’t report something that is reportable, they could be subject to a civil fine by the [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General],” Chris said. “If someone is vindictive and reports something to the NPDB that they know is not true, they could be subject to a civil penalty. As long as the person reporting believes the information is true, there is immunity from liability. You can’t be sued if you in good faith reported a doctor with information you reasonably believed to be accurate.”

Chris added, “I worked with a surgery center that had to report a surgeon. We were very cautious and careful because we didn’t want to be sued, even if the suit could be dismissed and [was] without merit. We wanted to do it right. We contacted the NPDB, and the individual there could not have been more helpful and precise with her directions and assurance that we were doing the right thing. The NPDB will walk you through the response so that you have that additional defense for the reporter, showing that you did due diligence.”

“When it comes to issues of clinical competence, I think there is more of an inclination to report. The more common cases in which hospitals struggle and decide not to report is when the surgeon is just obnoxious or demeaning to staff,” Chris observed. “They don’t want to keep him around, but it doesn’t impact his clinical abilities. But once there are questions of clinical competence and patient safety, I think you’ll find that hospitals get on the phone with the NPDB, make sure they are on solid ground, and err on the side of reporting.”