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Public data bank file restored, but with major restrictions


After advocacy and complaints from journalism groups, including SPJ, the Health Resources and Services Administration has restored a data file it previously removed from public view.

HRSA, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, removed the Public Use File of the National Practitioners Data Bank in September. The file was a resource for journalists and the public to gain information about medical practitioners, including doctors. Led by the Association of Health Care Journalists, a coalition of journalism organizations publicly objected to the removal.

But there is a heavy caveat to the data being brought back, a caveat not sitting well with AHCJ President Charles Ornstein. Users of the data set must agree not to repost or share the data on other websites, and cannot use it to identify an entity or individual (such as a doctor) by name.

"How can the government say data is public but then say it's only public with strings attached?" Ornstein said in a news release. "I am troubled that HRSA is overstepping its legal authority with these new rules and may be imposing unconstitutional prior restraints on reporters."

Read the full response from AHCJ.

SPJ and the other groups involved will watch the situation and continue to push for full, unrestricted access to this important public information.

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