June 27, 2014

Patients Need More Information About Sanctions against Physicians

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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A group of organizations representing consumers and medical patients are urging the state of New York to do a better job of letting the public know about sanctions against physicians for negligence by the Department of Health.

The groups recently reported that more than three-fourths of physicians found negligent by the state are allowed to keep practicing medicine. Patients are usually in the dark about their doctors’ disciplinary histories, the report said.

The report, Questionable Doctors, was based on data from state government agencies. It found that almost 60 percent of state actions against doctors stemmed from punishment by other states, the federal government or the legal system, rather than from investigations by the New York Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

Meanwhile, the number of doctors per capita in New York has increased dramatically. While the state’s population grew by 2 percent over the last decade, the number of doctors jumped by 36 percent, according to the report.

The report found that the New York State Health Department hasn’t updated its annual report on physician discipline actions by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct. Furthermore, a state report from 2010 shows few complaints start with physicians, even though they are most likely to know about misconduct by their fellow doctors.

The consumer and patient organizations urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to take these steps to protect patients:

  • Require all licensed health facilities and physicians’ offices to post information on how to access physician profiles.
  • Ensure that patients are notified in a timely manner if a limitation is placed on a physician’s license.
  • Set up a mechanism for helping consumers go through the complaint process and understand when a complaint should be filed.
  • Force doctors and health-care facilities that harm patients through a medical error to notify the victim or family when the mistake happens.
  • Require physicians to receive period recertification to ensure they are competent to practice medicine.

Currently patients have few ways to learn whether a doctor has been found negligent. But patients deserve to know if a doctor has committed a major medical mistake so they can make an informed decision about whether to continue seeing that physician.

If the Office of Professional Medical Conduct and Department of Health shirk their responsibilities for letting consumers know about incompetent doctors, patients will continue to be at risk of injury from malpractice.