Court tells New York to delete unfounded charges
■ Doctors should review information about them posted on a state Web site, an attorney recommends.
By Damon Adams — Posted July 26, 2004
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The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that it is wrong for the state to post unfounded misconduct charges against a physician on a public Web site.
The ruling stems from the case of a Manhattan general practice physician, who is anonymous in court records. He was cleared of most of the allegations brought against him by a female patient, but the state's health department posted the charges on a public-access Web site of physician information.
The state's highest court said unsubstantiated charges should not be posted publicly, and that doing so could hurt physicians.
"Many people who learn that a doctor has been charged with misconduct will think it possible that there was something to the charges, even if they were not upheld. Belief in that possibility will often be enough to make a prospective patient seek out another doctor," the court said in its June 29 ruling.
In 1999, the state's Board for Professional Medical Conduct charged the doctor with harassing and abusing a patient, failure to maintain records, moral unfitness, fraudulent practice and practicing beyond scope, according to court documents. The case involved a woman claiming to be a patient.
A hearing cleared the doctor of all but one charge, failure to maintain a medical record for a Cipro prescription, for which he received a reprimand. The state then posted the charges and outcome on the Internet. The doctor's attorney asked that the charges be removed, but the state said it was policy to post disciplinary orders.
The doctor sued. One lower court dismissed the doctor's petition, then another court said the health department must remove references of unproven charges. The New York Court of Appeals concluded that making the dismissed charges public "was an abuse of discretion."
Charles A. Singer, the doctor's attorney, said other New York doctors should check to see what information the state posts about them. "There may be a lot of doctors who are affected," he said.
The health department is reviewing its policies on public disclosure, said spokesman Joe DiMura.