'Conflict of interest' doctor database unplugged

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has pulled the plug on a new database intended to disclose potential conflicts of interest among physicians.

The agency’s Open Payments System lists payments from drug and medical device makers to doctors. It is supposed to go public on Sept. 30 after doctors have been given a chance to dispute any information on it by Aug. 27.


However, the agency released a statement Thursday noting that the database “has been taken offline temporarily to investigate a reported issue” and physicians won’t be able to review their data on the site until it is fixed.

“After an assessment of the data resulting from a complaint, we discovered that a limited number of physician payment records submitted by at least one manufacturer incorrectly contained information about other physicians,” said CMS spokesperson Aaron Albright.

While this means the dispute deadline will be extended, the agency has not said whether it will also delay the public launch of the site.

According to CMS the glitch allows a small number of physicians to see payments made to other physicians who have a similar name. The agency says it has taken the system offline to prevent physicians from seeing data that doesn’t belong to them.

There had already been some concern that the database could contain mistakes, and that doctors would not have enough time to fix them in order to safeguard their reputations.

A recent Propublica investigation found that at least one Kentucky doctor was listed in the new database as having had been paid by drugmaker Janssen Pharmaceuticals. However, the drugmaker was in fact paying a different doctor with an identical name who lived in Florida.

On Tuesday, more than 100 medical groups asked the CMS to give doctors more time to review their information and request corrections before making the database public. They suggested the agency push back publicly launching the site until March 31, 2015.


“There are widespread concerns that the implementation of this new system for data collection — without minimally a six-month period to upload the data, process registrations, generate aggregated individualized reports, and manage the dispute communications and updates — will not be ready and will likely lead to the release of inaccurate, misleading, and false information,” the groups wrote.

This story was corrected at 11:52 a.m.