Home to 2,106 physicians? According to the Open Payments web site it is.

With a shuffled Rubik’s Cube of physician locations, Open Payments has incorrectly jumbled the addresses of tens of thousands of doctors.

Massachusetts General Hospital administrators regularly look at Open Payments data on July 1, just after information is reported for the prior year by CMS on its Open Payments web site. But this year, MGH staff couldn’t find the records for hundreds of its physicians. That is, until they looked under the address of Fox Hill Village, a retirement community in suburban Boston at which MGH has a clinic with exactly one exam room.

In all, the CMS Open Payments web site (link below) now shows 671 physicians as practicing out of that (presumably very crowded) exam room. MGH is not alone in having its physicians seemingly randomly assigned to a tiny satellite location as of the June 2016 listings in the Open Payments ‘Physician Summary’ file.

The photo heading this post shows an office building in Westlake, Ohio that is the base for North Ohio Gastroenterology, a practice with exactly four doctors. The practice is associated with the Cleveland Clinic, though, and as of June 30, CMS’s Open Payments site shows 2,106 MD’s as being based there (after showing the correct figure of four MD’s at the location in January).

But, Mass General and the Cleveland Clinic were not the only prominent practices to have their physician addresses shuffled. Does this senior rehabilitation community look like where 1,171 (mostly) Johns Hopkins physicians practice?

bel-air-md-facility-cropped

CMS implemented Open Payments, or the Sunshine Act, in order to shed light on payments to physicians by the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Accuracy is meant to be one of the hallmarks of the system. So, what does it mean if CMS has, for months, been showing the wrong addresses for legions of physicians, including many at the nation’s most eminent medical facilities?

When a user goes to the Open Payments web site (see link below) to search for the records of their physician, a physician’s name is entered into the ‘physician finder’ tool. The site then returns a list of physician names and addresses matching that physician name.

At this time, though, there is a significant chance that the address shown will be incorrect. Sometimes by hundreds of miles.

This all relates to an error in what CMS refers to as the ‘Physician Summary’ file for clinicians appearing in the Open Payments data set. This file is one of the ‘data sets’ a user can download at the Open Payments web site. At some point between January 15, 2016 and June 30th (files are downloadable for both dates), whoever is responsible for the Physician Summary infomation messed up. A lot.

See below for a list of before and after physician totals for ten locations around the country. These are not newly opened ‘mega-hospitals’, this is just plain old bad data. What appears to have happened is that new locations were added to the networks of large organizations. But, instead of just the physicians at the new location being listed under the new address, hundreds of other physicians were shown as being based at the new location. The chart below lists the addresses with the largest number of physicians in the ‘Physician Summary’ file as of June 30, 2016, and the total listed in January:

excel-file-try-again

You can check this for yourself by going to https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov/search  and entering Westlake under ‘City’ and ‘Ohio’ for State. You will see the first page of the long list of physicians that are now listed as being located at 30701 Clemens Road in Westlake. This will work for any of the other city/state combinations above.

At Primacea, we are assembling a database of all Open Payments amounts aggregated by Physician, affiliated Hospital, and Industry firm. You can imagine that task has been made substantially more difficult by so many physician addresses being incorrect.

We tried to make CMS aware of this problem, both through its ‘Open Payments Help Desk’ and other contacts we have within the program. We were without luck, though. We first received an email from the help desk telling us that our issue was “resolved’, even though it wasn’t. And, several emails sent to CMS Open Payments personnel have received no response.

If your organization is one of the ones with the incorrect addresses, we would appreciate it if you could contact the help desk at CMS (https://www.cms.gov/OpenPayments/Contact-Us/Contact-Us.html).  Perhaps more contacts to the help desk will lead the Open Payments team to acknowledge the problem.

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