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Data Bugs

Doctor Payment Website Is Back on Schedule After Bogus Data Are Discovered

Doctor Payment Website Is Back on Schedule After Bogus Data Are Discovered

Photograph by Getty Images

Federal officials say an unexpected one-week halt to the testing of a  government website that will detail medical-industry payments to doctors and teaching hospitals will not interfere with the portal’s planned Sept. 30 public launch.

The website, called Open Payments, is in a review phase in which only doctors and hospitals can register—to check whether information reported about them is accurate before it’s made public. The site was shut down suddenly last week after a physician complained it was mixing information about him with another doctor with the same name in a different state. An electrophysiologist in Louisville publicly shared his experience of finding such an error.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is developing the website, said today it found that manufacturers and purchasing groups submitted “intermingled data,” including doctor licensing information and provider identification numbers, for physicians with the same first and last names. The agency said it fixed the problem and reopened the website for testing today.

CMS has extended the period for doctors to report and dispute information from the end of this month until Sept. 8. It said that extension will not delay the unveiling of the site to the public at the end of September.

“We have identified the root cause of the problem and have instituted a system fix to prevent similar errors,” CMS Deputy Administrator Shantanu Agrawal said in a press release. “We strongly encourage physicians to review their records before the deadline and before the data are posted publicly to identify any discrepancies.”

The website is the result of legislation, called the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, passed four years ago. The act requires pharmaceutical companies, medical device makers, and medical purchasing companies to report any payments, including meals and honoraria, that they’ve provided to doctors and teaching hospitals. In addition, the companies must report any physicians who have an ownership interest in their business.

Doctor and industry groups have been pushing for a six-month delay before the website goes public. They say the process for doctors to register and check information on the site is cumbersome and CMS is not sharing enough information with doctors.

Armstrong is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Boston.

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