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Dix Hills Doctor Case Could Change Doctor – Patient Relationships

Nov 26, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Dix Hills doctor medical malpractice case is causing people to rethink their relationship with health care providers.  In the wake of the Dix Hills doctor scandal, patients are beginning to question healthcare professionals about their safety and contamination prevention practices where syringes and needles are concerned.  Who can blame them?

Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, the Dix Hills doctor who exposed patients to blood-borne pathogen infections, including Hepatitis C and B and HIV/AIDS as a result of reusing syringes, is an anesthesiologist who practices at the Pain Care Center of Long Island and has admitting privileges at the New Island Hospital in Bethpage, the North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, and the Long Island SurgiCenter in Melville.  The New York State Department of Health has notified hundreds of Finkelstein's patients that they could be at risk for infectious diseases. 

People generally assume every health care professional follows professional protocols; Finkelstein has changed that.  With blood, potential exists for disease transmission if sterile conditions do not exist.  Patients can cut risks by confirming healthcare professionals washed their hands, that all medical staff are wearing protective gloves, and that needles and syringes are used only once.  Patients should not be afraid to ask if medication being drawn by a needle and syringe is coming from a single-dose vial, a factor that reduces the risk of blood-borne disease transmission.  Multi-dose vials of medication, which are an issue in the Finkelstein case, are routinely used in all types of medical care settings and are safe when proper infection control procedures are used.  However, if procedures are sloppy -as they were in the case of the Dix Hills doctor - multi-dose vials can become a transmission source to subsequent patient.  When multi-dose vials are used, confirm the use of germ-killing alcohol to swab a vial's rubber top before a needle is placed inside the vial.  Ask questions before medications are placed on the table, such as when presented with a consent form, as is often the case with flu vaccinations and medical procedures. Another safety protocol is standard in some physicians' practices:  the presence of another person in the room when a healthcare professional prepares and administers injections.

Finkelstein told investigators he began administering injections in 2000; however, recent information reveals the doctor was giving injections long before 2000.  Finkelstein came to the health department's attention in 2004 when a Nassau County Health Department nurse noticed unusual similarities in two of that year's hepatitis C cases.  Two patients received spinal injections for back pain at around the same time by Finkelstein with one learning he subsequently contracted hepatitis C following routine blood.  Officials from local and state jurisdictions observed Finkelstein reusing syringes to draw up medications and dye from multiple dose vials, including syringes containing blood backflow.  This type of unsanitary behavior was determined to be the source of contamination.

Hepatitis C and B are both forms of viral hepatitis transmitted by infected blood, C causes chronic liver disease and B causes fever, debility, and jaundice.  HIV is a retrovirus leading to AIDS and also transmitted by blood.  Full-blown AIDS is invariably fatal.

After a 2005 state intervention, Finkelstein changed his procedures.  Under state monitoring for three years, he continues to practice and continues to maintain his innocence.

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