Health consumers in New York State have scored a long-awaited victory with the release by state and federal agencies of the names of hundreds of physicians found guilty of medical misconduct.
The list obtained last week by The Queens Courier includes 44 Queens medical practitioners who have been disciplined by the state in the last two years for a range of offenses from sloppy medical record-keeping to selling heroin and botched medical procedures.
An analysis of the Queens offender roster reveals disciplinary actions taken against surgeons, psychiatrists, gynecologists and internists — many from upscale communities such as Forest Hills, Bayside, Jamaica Estates and Douglaston.
Medical offenders from throughout the state have been posted on the New York State Health Dept. web site.
It can be accessed at the following address: http://www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/opmc/main.htm
Two other national health organizations, the American Medical Assoc. and the National Organization of State Medical Boards, also post the names of disciplined medical practitioners.
One consumer activist who asked not to be identified said "you can test drive a used car or kick the car tires before purchasing it, but heretofore it was impossible to intelligently pick your doctor and find out about his past behavior even though your life might be at stake."
Queens doctors guilty of medical misconduct were disciplined for a wide variety of reasons.
Physicians posted on the web site include:
Dr. Mohamedikbal Ebrahim of Jamaica surrendered his license after "admitting he had been convicted of possessing heroin with intent to distribute."
Dr. John D. Coderre of Bayside, a physician’s assistant, had his license revoked "for willfully harassing or abusing several patients while engaged in the practice of medicine."
Dr. Jamile Peress of Forest Hills was reprimanded and fined $10,000 upon admitting "he failed to maintain adequate medical records."
The decision to make such previously confidential data available to consumers with access to the Internet follows years of failed attempts by consumer groups to force government agencies to provide consumers with reports on their physicians’ behavior.
The data available on the State Health Dept. web site includes names of physicians whose medical licenses have been suspended or revoked or placed on probation, those allowed to practice under medical supervision and others fined heavily for their breach of Health Dept. regulations.
According to Dennis Whalen, Acting Commissioner of the State Dept. of Health, the agency is the first state to list disciplinary actions taken against licensed physicians on the Internet.
"We want New Yorkers to have easy access to information about the results of the physician discipline process," she said. "The Internet is an easy and effective way to help people check up on New York doctors at any time and in total privacy."
Claire Popisil, a spokesperson for the State Health Dept., told The Queens Courier that the agency last informed the public via press release about the web site availability on July 30, 1996.
The new web page provides the following information:
• Monthly reports of disciplinary actions against licensed physicians and physician assistants, including the penalty and nature of misconduct.
• An index to the monthly reports for searching purposes.
• The Professional Misconduct & Physician Discipline pamphlet which describes the complaint process.
• An annual report.
• A link to the State Senate home page for relevant statutes in Public Health and Education Law.
o A link to the State Education Dept. Office of Professional Discipline Web page for information on the discipline process for other New York State licensed professions.
The historic decision to release lists of disciplined physicians reverses earlier government practices on the matter. Previously hearings against doctors were conducted behind closed doors and results of actions taken were difficult to obtain.
Traditionally patient complaints about physicians were dealt with in hospitals and county medical societies by a peer review process in which physicians judge other physicians.
Tom Donahue, a spokesperson for The New York State Medical Society, said his group enthusiastically endorsed the new State Policy.
"We helped make the crackdown possible," he said, "by going to the State four years ago and asking that physician registration fees be doubled to enable the Health Dept. to increase the number of investigators by 50 percent.
"The Society believes that if a physician doesn’t perform well he or she should be removed from the system," he said. "The policy is in the interest of the public and the practicing physician."
From earliest recorded history physicians have been bound by the Hippocratic Oath which commands: "First do no harm" and the Biblical proscription in Luke 4, "Physician Heal Thyself."
The revelation last month that a 30-year-old financial analyst, Lisa Smart, died in the operating room at the prestigious Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan after treatment for fibroid tumors in her uterus — a medical problem as common as it was benign — shocked the public.
Smart’s family filed a multimillion dollar malpractice suit against the Hospital, her doctors and a medical equipment salesman who operated an unauthorized machine in the operating room.
They have also asked the Manhattan District Attorney to file criminal charges against Lisa’s physician. A spokesperson for the D.A.’s office told The Courier the matter is still under consideration.
Smart and his wife first met when they worked in a Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant in Queens.
Consumer groups point out that if Smart had been aware of the web site data she would have learned that her physician was on probation and she might have decided to switch surgeons.
Consumers who do not have access to computers and the Internet can call the State Office of Professional Medical Misconduct to check on a particular doctor. That number is 518-402-0855.
Peggy Judge, a spokesperson for the State Office of Professional Discipline in Rochester, provided The Queens Courier with a summary of final disciplinary actions taken against state physicians over the last four years. They include:
The State Health Dept. investigates complaints filed against physicians, conducts hearings to establish guilt or innocence and, if found guilty, turns the findings over to the State Dept. of Education’s Office of Professional Discipline for further action .
Steven McGuire contributed to this story.