More than 77 percent of doctors who were sanctioned in New York State for medical negligence during a 10-year-period between 2003 and 2014 were allowed to continue treating patients in our state, a new report has found.
Released in May 2014, the report by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), “Questionable Doctors,” finds that it is “highly likely” that patients seen by these doctors may not be aware that the doctor has been punished.
Additionally, many doctors were sanctioned during the 10-year period based on actions that had been taken in other states or by the courts and not as the result of an investigation by the agency charged with protecting patients in our state, the New York State Department of Public Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), the report states.
As this report makes clear, more resources need to be dedicated to identifying dangerous doctors in New York State and to ensuring that patients are fully aware of any sanctions in their doctor’s background.
A Critical Look at New York’s System of Doctor Discipline
The NYPIRG is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to affecting public policy reforms. In this report, the NYPIRG takes a critical look at New York State’s system of investigating and disciplining negligent physicians.
According to the report, nearly 60 percent of the OPMC’s sanctions against doctors resulted from actions taken by other states, the federal government or the courts.
When the OPMC publishes its annual report, however, it does not separate those actions from the smaller number of actions actually initiated by an OPMC investigation.
This makes it seem as if the OPMC is engaging in tighter oversight of the state’s doctors than is actually occurring, the report states.
The report notes that few complaints submitted to the OPMC come from other doctors, who are the ones who would appear to be in the best position to report negligence or other misconduct among peers.
The report goes on to reject the argument that doctors are a “scarce community resource,” and the assertion that the public would be at risk if more doctors lost their licenses.
As the authors note, the number of doctors in New York State actually increased by 36 percent between 2003 and 2014 – in contrast to a mere 2 percent overall population growth in the state.
For example, in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenactady and Onondaga counties combined, there were 3,726 New York-licensed doctors in 2003. Today, there are 5,102, marking an increase of 27 percent.
Patients Need Better Access to Information
Currently, there is no requirement that patients in New York State be informed of a disciplinary action in their doctor’s past. In fact, the only way a patient can find that information is by going to the OPMC’s website or by calling its 800 number.
Additionally, many patients may be unaware of how they can file a complaint alleging a doctor’s negligence or misconduct.
To address those shortcomings, the NYPIRG suggests:
Requiring all hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices in the state to post information that includes the Web addresses for:
- Filing a complaint to the OPMC
- Looking up a doctor’s profile
- Researching physician and physician assistant disciplinary actions.
The report’s authors also call for the creation of an OPMC consumer assistance office to help patients get through the process of filing a complaint.
The NYPIRG recommends that any physicians with limitations on their license be required to tell patients and that any health care provider who harms a patient be required to inform the patient if a medical mistake occurred.
Finally, the report calls for the periodic recertification of licensed physicians in the state.
At Powers & Santola, LLP, we would support any reforms that serve to better protect patients from the harm that can be caused by negligence medical professionals.