Doctor discipline measure draws mixed reaction

BY DELTHIA RICKS
http://www.newsday.com

Gov. David A. Paterson‘s measures aimed at improving patient safety and putting more teeth into physician discipline drew a mixed reaction yesterday from experts in health care and the legal profession.

During his news briefing yesterday, Paterson alluded to Dr. Harvey Finkelstein, the Long Island physician caught in controversy after more than 10,000 of his patients were notified they might have been exposed to hepatitis C, B and HIV.

Under the governor’s plan, physicians would not be able to practice while an investigation is under way. But that denies doctors the right of due process, said Dr. Melissa Palmer, a liver specialist in Plainview who evaluated dozens of Finkelstein’s patients for liver disease. “What happened to innocent until proven guilty?” she said yesterday.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think all doctors should be using universal precautions,” she said of guidelines to prevent the transmission of communicable infections in health care settings. “But until they’re actually proven 100 percent guilty, they should not be forced from practice.”

Robert Tessler, a Manhattan lawyer, called the governor’s plans “a welcome move toward transparency and responsibility.” He was among lawyers who represented patients who contracted hepatitis C and possibly hepatitis B following exposure to contaminated colonoscopy equipment in Brooklyn. The cases were settled in the patients’ favor last year.

Tessler said taking action against physicians has been tough in New York because the profession has protective firewalls. “It’s much easier to discipline a lawyer. The medical profession tends to be a little too protective.”

One amendment authorizes an “administrative tribunal” to issue orders to the Office of Professional Medical Conduct to review personal medical records of physicians and other personnel deemed impaired by drugs, alcohol or physical or mental disability. “God is in the details on this one,” said David Rothman, founder of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University. “I hope this doesn’t mean that the doctors’ medical records would become public, but that the OPMC would have access to them.”

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