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Dix Hills Doctor Medical Malpractice Probe Secrecy Questioned

Nov 27, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
spinal injections

Serious Questions Over The Way New York State Investigates Physician Misconduct.

The Dix Hills doctor medical malpractice investigation has raised serious questions over the way New York State investigates physician misconduct.   Under the current system, the New York Department of Health Office of Professional Conduct was able to investigate Dr. Harvey Finkelstein’s medical practices in secret, even though it had already traced two cases of hepatitis C back to his office.   Because of this system, patients of the Dix Hills doctor had virtually no way of knowing that they could have been exposed to serious blood borne diseases while receiving treatment from Finkelstein.

The medical malpractice occurring at Finkelstein’s practice first came to the attention of the health department in December 2004, when a sharp eyed nurse at the Nassau County Health Department noticed similarities between two hepatitis C cases among the county’s roughly 1,000 that year.   Both patients had been treated by the Dix Hills doctor and had received spinal injections at his Long Island medical practice.  

In January 2005, state and local health officials investigating the Dix Hills doctor visited Finkelstein to watch him work.   What they saw was astonishing.  The investigators’ report states that they observed “during two separate epidural spinal injections that the physician removed the needle from a previously used syringe (from the same patient), attached a new needle to this syringe and reused the syringe to draw up medications and dye from multidose vials. Backflow of blood was noted during the procedures.”   The health investigators soon pegged this type of improper infection control as the source of the two hepatitis C infections.

Investigation Wasn’t Made Public Until This Month.

While the state health investigators did inform 94 patients who received injections from Finkelstein in 2004 that they where at risk for infections, the Dix Hills doctor medical malpractice investigation wasn’t made public until this month.  It was only then that the New York State Department of Health sent letters to more than 600 of Dr. Finkelstein’s patients warning them of the danger to their health.  

The Department of Health had been monitoring Finkelstein for three years, yet his patients had no idea.  That’s how the system works under New York law, which is one of a few states that conducts such probes in secret and keeps physician names private.   Even if an investigation finds wrongdoing, as it had in the Finkelstein case, the doctor is under no obligation to let patients know. The only way a patient can discover if a doctor has been sanctioned for misconduct is via website few people know about.  Even if patients do find that website, the information can be unclear.  For instance, Finkelstein’s entry reads: "Nondisciplinary order of conditions issued pursuant to New York State Public Health Law Section 230 for three years including conditions relating to infection control."   It is very unclear exactly what that means.

Defenders of New York’s medical misconduct investigations system say that such discretion is warranted when a physician’s reputation is at stake.  But others argue that this puts patient health at risk.   A spokesperson for PULSE, a Long Island medical consumer group told Newsday that the public should be aware if a doctor is being investigated.  “People can die from misleading information,” the spokesperson said.

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