The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Aug. 28 that it will once again shut down the Open Payments System, a new database disclosing financial relationships between physicians and drug and device manufacturers. The system will be offline for periods of time on August 30 and September 5.

CMS originally took the system offline on Aug. 3 to resolve a “technical issue” and announced Aug. 15 that it reopened the Open Payments database after the agency conducted a “full investigation” into a physician complaint which found that manufacturers and group purchasing organizations (GPOs) submitted intermingled data, such as the wrong state license number or national provider identifier, for physicians with the same last and first names, erroneously linking physician data.

To resolve that specific issue, CMS implemented system fixes and revalidated all data in the system to verify that the physician identifiers used by the applicable manufacturer or GPO are accurate, and that all payment records are attributed to a single physician. Due to errors found in the database, including the inability to correctly match individual physicians with reported data, CMS has decided to hold one-third of the reports until next spring.

CMS was to publish the reported data on a publicly available website to create greater transparency of industry-physician financial relationships. However, with the latest shutdown announcement, the agency’s database clearly continues to have problems.

The American Medical Association says that CMS again shutting down the Open Payments System “adds to the growing concerns that the site is simply not ready to go public” and “further underscores the need for physicians to have more time to register, review and correct inaccurate data that may be housed on the government website.”  

A recent online survey conducted by AMA found that 68 percent of physician respondents had an overall poor registration experience and 62 percent of respondents who were able to access the system found that data contained in the reports was not accurate. The survey, conducted earlier this month in response to a number of physicians voicing concerns about the system, also found that 44 percent of respondents who tried to register were unsuccessful.

“Continuing to shut down the website and moving the deadline for physicians to seek corrections is causing confusion and frustration among physicians,” said Robert M. Wah, M.D., AMA president, in a written statement. “Patients need accurate information. If the government releases incorrect information to the public, it can lead to misinterpretations, harm reputations and cause patients to question their trust in their physicians. Inaccurate data can also unfairly impact physicians’ ability to attain or keep research grants and other employment opportunities that require disclosure.”

AMA is calling on CMS to extend by six months the time that physicians have to register and ensure the accuracy of their reports before release to the public. “Physicians need enough time to register for the Open Payments system, review their data and seek corrections in order to ensure accuracy,” said Wah.

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