August 2012 – Database Spotlight #1
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General
Want to know how many doctors in your city or state have been banned from federal programs for drug convictions? Sexual crimes? Fraud? You can track nurses, aides, therapists – most any licensed medical professional.
One story angle: Where are they working now? Countless journalists have used this data to uncover questionable health practitioners or to frame broader thematic stories about Medicaid or Medicare fraud. You can examine one person or a profession. You can go local or national.
First, you must obtain the file layout – a critical first step when working with any database. Click this layout link.
There are 15 fields of information, such as name and address, specialty and sanction type. Sanction type? This is a clue that the data is coded, or abbreviated.
The next step is to obtain the “key.” Click this code key.
There are 19 categories of violations. Consult the website for more background and information.
I’ve used federal exclusion data to locate state records. Let’s say I’m doing a story on home health aides. I want to identify nursing aides who’ve run afoul of the law while working in residential homes. I pluck out the names from the federal list (after downloading the federal data into a spreadsheet) and run those names through the state license lookup website; most states have this capability. Now I can examine detailed information and file a public records request for more investigative files.
I never publish the name of a medical professional without running it through both state and federal search engines. Trust me, you shouldn’t either.
That’s how I discovered a federal fugitive had masterminded a multimillion dollar medical device empire from Budapest, under the eye of the FDA, as detailed (with reporter Christine Willmsen) in The Seattle Times series Miracle Machines.