Open Data

CMS releases trove of data on payments to doctors and hospitals

Shutterstock image: beacon of data.

A new government database that debuted Sept. 30 offers information on financial connections between doctors and teaching hospitals and pharmaceutical firms and medical device manufacturers.

The open-data play by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was mandated under provisions of the 2010 health care overhaul.

The inaugural data dump covers $3.5 billion in payments from firms to health professionals between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 2013. The data was collected from manufacturers over the summer, and matched by CMS to physicians and teaching hospitals. The data allows patients, watchdog groups, and others to map relationships between industry and care providers.

Right now, the picture provided by the data available at the Open Payments site is limited. According to CMS, about 40 percent of the 4.4 million records are de-identified – they don't include the name of the provider in question because of administrative delays or because the data in question is in dispute. CMS plans to have fully identifiable data in place by June 2015.

CMS also plans to improve search functionality, to allow users to check up on their own doctors more easily. Right now, the data is geared for bulk downloads for use by developers, although there are search options on the site CMS is hosting.

The American Medical Association has concerns about the quality of the data.

In a press release, the AMA said that the program "has to date been plagued by significant shortcomings that call into question the accuracy of information that will be published on September 30th, including an inadequate opportunity for physicians to review their individual data and technical problems with the system's website."

Even CMS cautioned against drawing out-of-context conclusions from the data.

"Open Payments does not identify which financial relationships are beneficial and which could cause conflicts of interest," said Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, deputy CMS Administrator and director for the Center for Program Integrity. "It simply makes the data available to the public."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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