N.Y. Lawmakers Welcome Governor’s Bid for Stricter Physician Oversight

May 16, 2008

State lawmakers say New York Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to increase doctor oversight and prevent misconduct has a good chance of passing this session — but with changes.

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, a New York City Democrat, says both legislative chambers will have a few concerns about Paterson’s proposal to tell the public more about medical misconduct.

Gottfried says he’s confident that some version of the bill will pass this session, but declined to comment on his concerns until he had more time to review the legislation.

“The infection control and physician discipline issues are very important,” Gottfried said. “The governor’s initiative should help focus attention and bring about an agreement that can become law this session.”

State Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon, a Long Island Republican, has introduced his own measure, with goals that overlap with the governor’s. Overall, he says New York will likely pass legislation to increase patient safety, infection control and oversight of practitioners before the end of session in June.

“We try to be a little more pointed about dealing with infection control and education about infection control and about aiming that at ambulatory and outpatient settings,” Hannon said of his own proposal. “We also added in a requirement that the patient safety center annually review the physician profiles.”

Under Paterson’s proposal, any professional discipline charges would be made public. Right now the public isn’t notified of physician misconduct unless and until the doctor is found guilty. Charges are issued after an investigation is complete, which can take an average of about six months.

The goal is to give the Office of Professional Medical Conduct more power and oversight of physicians, to provide more information to New Yorkers in the case of public health threats, and to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

“I don’t see the issues here as breaking down on partisan lines, fortunately,” Gottfried said. “I think this is an issue where it’s certainly doable for the legislature to come together and work out whatever issues we may have.”

Vito Grasso, executive director of the New York state Academy of Family Physicians, said it’s crucial to increase oversight, but Paterson’s approach could unfairly damage the career of a physician who’s not ultimately found guilty.

“I would also hope that if the individual was completely acquitted that information would be just as well-documented and publicized,” Grasso said.

In 2007, the state Health Department received 8,163 complaints against doctors. Of those, officials opened 4,151 investigations. Ultimately charges were brought against just 311 physicians, and health officials said the vast majority of those were sustained _ the doctor was found guilty of misconduct.

State law is currently silent about when officials can disclose charges of professional misconduct to the public, but attorneys for the state say a legislative change is necessary before charges against a doctor can be released.

A 2005 investigation by the comptroller’s office found that the OPMC was thorough in its investigation of cases of potential misconduct, but wasn’t proactively rooting it out.

“The publication of charges is something that I would say is very common across the states,” said Lisa Robin, senior vice president of member services for the Federation of State Medical Boards. “So I would applaud the governor’s office for introducing this legislation.”

Paterson’s proposal would also require the OPMC to continuously review medical malpractice claims reported to the Department of Health to identify and investigate potential misconduct.

Courts would have to report to OPMC any time a doctor was sentenced for misdemeanor or felony offenses.

Another major change would be that the proposal would extend existing laws on infection control to keep up with the changing world of medically transmitted infections.

The infection-related aspects of the proposal were, in part, a reaction to Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist from Long Island accused of dipping syringes more than once into vials of medicine, contaminating the drugs and infecting at least one person with hepatitis.


On the Net: http://www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/opmc/main.htm



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