NY State Senator to Craft Bill to Open Doctor Disciplinary Process

State Senator Kemp Hannon said at a hearing held at Farmingdale State College to address questions surrounding the transmission of hepatitis C in the medical offices of Dr. Harvey Finkelstein that he would propose legislation to speed the notification of patients infected after improper practices and to make pubic charges brought against doctors by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OMPC), the state disciplinary board for doctors. The OMPC has come under heavy criticism for not disciplining Dr. Finkelstein for engaging in improper infection control procedures.

Criticism of the OPMC apparently contributed to the OPMC’s suspension of an ophthalmologist, Dr. Martin Ehrenberg, this past Thursday (12/6/07) for allegedly performing unnecessary laser eye surgeries on six patients. The six patients were diagnosed with ailments including diabetic retinopathy, wet macular degeneration and cataracts. The New York Department of Health, in announcing the suspension, cited an “imminent danger” to public health.

A hearing is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, December 11. Dr. Ehrenberg, who has offices in Manhattan and Great Neck, faces 32 charges of medical misconduct, including gross negligence. Much has been written about the fact the OMPC knew for almost three years, but did not disclose to most of his patients, that Dr. Harvey Finkelstein had put his patients at risk by re-using syringes that likely resulted in the transmittal of hepatitis C to one of his patients and could have resulted in the transmittal of hepatitis B and C and HIV to other of his patients.

The OPMC was also criticized for failing to use its subpoena power and for failing to take into account that payments have been made in at least 10 medical malpractice suits brought against Dr. Finkelstein, based upon federal government records of cases in New York from 1990 to June 2007.

Dr. Finkelstein’s record is on par with just 127 of 70,000 licensed physicians in the state, according to Public Citizen. State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines pointed to Dr. Martin Ehrenberg’s suspension as a sign of the agency’s stepped-up pursuit of cases against bad doctors.

“It’s a new time,” said Dr. Daines, “It’s time to re-examine how we enforce standards.”

New York is among a handful of states that conducts the entire probe in private and withholds a doctor’s name unless the complaint is upheld. Even after an investigation is concluded, doctors are not required to notify patients if they are practicing under sanction. What information is available is found on a state Web site that critics argue few people know about. Just three percent of complaints filed against doctors in the last two years have resulted in discipline against them, according to state Health Department figures.

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