I finally decided to review my Sunshine Act data. We are in the period of time when the data can be reviewed by physicians and disputed if necessary. On September 30 the data will be released to the general public. The data in question is a list of payments (whether food and drink, honoraria, travel expenses or whatever) submitted by drug and device companies for the previous year. Theoretically the cost of every bagel or donut is counted and will be displayed on the web. I don’t consider myself a major consumer of such resources, but it only seemed prudent to check out what was listed under my name before everyone else sees it.
Just getting to the data is not easy. There is a 2 step registration process outlined here. The instructions are contained on a 42 slide powerpoint presentation. Undaunted, I plunged ahead. During part of the process, I was asked questions like “where did my last bank loan come from” and other private information that I had no idea CMS would have in their files. In another part of the process, there was a 15 minute time limit to answer the questions correctly. Knowing your NPI number and your practice specialty code (this could easily have been a drop down list — I ended up googling the code) is necessary. As we shall see below, all this caution to make sure that the person registering was actually me was a waste of time.
So, with the weary but satisfied feeling a hacker must get when finally breaking into a bank’s web site, I was finally in and the main screen confronted me. Problem was it wasn’t clear what to do next. After clicking around and getting cryptic error messages such as this one:
I finally got to where I needed to be. But the spreadsheet I encountered was full of payments from drug companies I never dealt with. After tediously viewing the details of each entry, I discovered that my data had been freely mixed with another doctor with my name who practices in Florida. This despite having different addresses, different middle names, and, importantly, different NPI numbers! Because of confidentiality concerns I won’t include the screenshots. I ended up going through each and every entry and had to dispute at least half of the entries as being for the wrong physician.
Given my experience, I encourage everyone to check their own data. I doubt I am the only one who has mistaken data. All this could prove a huge embarrassment to physicians when the data is posted to the public on September 30th. In reality it should be considered an embarrassment to CMS that they could make such a fundamental error. It’s bad enough that we have to have this data posted (wouldn’t you like to see a similar database for congressmen?). Since it’s now likely that it isn’t accurate only makes it worse.