Bad Doctors Charged With Misconduct. Soon, most doctors who have been charged with misconduct by the New York State Department of Health will not only have their names made public, but they will only have one day to produce those records demanded of them by investigators. This is part of a wide-ranging patient safety bill agreement announced Monday by Governor David A. Paterson. As the governor unveiled the new agreement with legislative leaders in Albany, he pointed to the case of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, the notorious Dix Hills doctor who the state Department of Health says put thousands of patients at risk to blood-borne pathogen infections like hepatitis B and C by reusing syringes. The bill also expands infection control training to now include not just doctors and physician assistants, but those studying to work in those professions.
Finkelstein most recently settled a malpractice lawsuit with a Syosset man who claimed he contracted hepatitis C in Finkelstein’s office. Unbelievably, Finkelstein has settled an unprecedented 11 malpractice lawsuits inside of a decade. Although Paterson did not mention Finkelstein by name, he did refer to the “case of the Long Island doctor who became very dangerous to the public.” Senator Kemp Hannon (Republican-Garden City), chairman of the Senate health committee, said the bill was created “100 percent because of Finkelstein.” The Finkelstein case and its many challenges provided a basis for what the health department needed to conduct better disciplinary and infectious disease investigations, said state Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines. “We are very pleased to streamline and to move the process forward more rapidly,” he said.
Strong Criticization By Patient Advocates
The health department has been strongly criticized by patient advocates after it was revealed it negotiated with Finkelstein for his office records, a process that helped delay public notification to over 10,000 of Finkelstein’s patients for an incredible three years. Finkelstein, is a pain-management doctor who worked primarily from a Plainview office, infecting at least one patient with hepatitis C by reusing syringes in multidose vials. Finkelstein’s malpractice record alone should have prompted an investigation by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), the health department agency that investigates doctors. It didn’t.
The new law requires ongoing state review of malpractice records to determine if troubling patterns emerge, prompting inquiry; publicizes the names of doctors formally charged by the Board of Medical Professional Conduct if the three-person panel of two doctors and one lay member voted to do so unanimously; eases the OPMC’s ability to obtain a doctor’s personal medical records if there is reason to believe he/she is impaired by alcohol or drugs, something currently only obtainable via court order; allows the health department to disclose information to the public “as needed” regarding public health threats; and authorizes the department to direct a doctor to cease any activity uncovered in a communicable disease investigation. The legislation leaves New York among a handful of states that do not conduct public disciplinary hearings.
In Finkelstein’s case, a hearing was never held and the doctor was placed under state monitoring for three years. Finkelstein continues to practice.
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