New Requirements Protect Patients by Enhancing the Authority of Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the 36th proposal of his 2020 State of the State Agenda – strengthening the oversight of physicians and other medical professionals to protect patients. The Governor is proposing a comprehensive set of reforms to ensure that the Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct has adequate and effective tools to investigate, discipline and monitor physicians, physician assistants and specialist assistants licensed in New York, providing greater transparency in physician discipline and reducing the length of misconduct investigations.

“The first responsibility of any medical professional is do no harm, and when someone violates that oath they must be held appropriately accountable,” Governor Cuomo said. “These sweeping proposals will help ensure patients have access to critical information they need to make informed decisions about their healthcare and give state health regulators more tools to investigate and penalize providers for dangerous, unethical or illegal behavior.”

Making Investigations and Non-Disciplinary Actions Public

Under current law the Department of Health is prohibited from confirming the presence or absence of an investigation. Healthcare consumers and patients deserve access to this information, when, the Commissioner of Health deems it’s warranted. Additionally, certain “expedited processes” exist in the law, wherein a physician may be issued a warning for a minor and technical violation, which does not rise to the level of prosecutable misconduct. These warnings are, under current law, non-disciplinary and non-public, but will now be made publicly available.

Eliminating Lifetime Licensure

Under current law, physicians, physician assistants and specialist assistants licensed in New York remain licensed for life unless some action is taken against their licenses, even if they move out of state. The Governor’s proposal would require doctors to periodically renew their New York State Medical Licenses or lose them, along with the ability to practice medicine in New York. Additionally, the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) is required to investigate every New York State licensee charged with misconduct in another state, but in many cases, those licensees have not practiced medicine in New York in several years, if ever. If doctors practicing outside the state could place their New York licenses in an inactive status, it would allow OPMC to dedicate its resources to investigating complaints against licensees who are practicing here.

Reform Public Health Law’s Burdensome Provisions

To strengthen public safety, the Governor proposes updating the Public Health Law to allow the State Health Commissioner to summarily suspend a physician’s license, at the start of an investigation, if the Commissioner deems that physician to be a risk to the public. Current law requires that the physician be an imminent danger before their license can be suspended.

Under current state law physicians have many due process procedural rights, which impede and greatly lengthen the progress of an investigation and disciplinary finding. In 2018, the average amount of time to close a full OPMC field investigation was 307 days. These permitted delays allow physicians who are potentially bad actors to continue to practice medicine, at grave risk to patients. It is imperative that the Health Commissioner and OPMC have the authority and tools necessary to act, still with due process, to protect the public.

Ensure Consumers Have Up-To-Date and Accessible Information about New York State Licensed Physicians

The Physician Profile is a publicly available, online resource providing information about individual New York State licensed physicians, including doctors’ medical education, translation services at the doctor’s office and information about legal actions taken against the doctor. Currently, however, other important information, such as insurance network participation, practice location, hours of operation and whether the office is currently accepting new patients are either optional or not required under the Public Health Law. To help ensure consumers can make informed decisions about their healthcare, the Governor will introduce legislation to ensure the public can access this critical information. To avoid imposing an extra burden on physicians, the Governor is also proposing that DOH updates information on network participation information.

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