Governor George Pataki came to Farmingdale last week to sign a "physician profiling" bill into law that will provide New York medical patients easier access to information about their doctors. The state legislature passed this bill in response to the escalating concerns the public has had about medical errors being made in hospitals. The bill promises to improve public health by giving patients greater access to more information about their doctors, hospitals and health plans.
Gov. Pataki speaks at the bill signing at Farmingdale Public Library.
Patients will be able to access profiles about their caregivers by either calling a toll-free telephone hotline or visiting the state health department's website. The website is up and running and can be found at www.health.state.ny.us. The toll free number, which was activated just days after the signing, is 1-800-663-6114. The profiles will include all information about a doctor including malpractice judgments or disciplinary actions they may have been involved in within the last 10 years.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Senator Kemp Hannon, one of the bill's sponsors, is responsible for getting the bill to pass through the state Senate earlier this summer. In recognition of Hannon's efforts, Pataki asked him to choose a location within his district to hold the signing. "This is a special day, and that's why we wanted to have it at a place that signifies what this legislation is all about, a library with access to information," Hannon said.
Hannon added that having Governor Pataki sign this bill marks a completion of what his administration has done for healthcare. "We worked on affordability, accessibility, and now we're trying to work on the quality."
Pataki thanked all sponsors of the bill, but particularly the average citizens. "I want to mostly thank the ordinary people who came along and decided that they had to do something to take a step to improve our healthcare system, to prevent tragedy, to prevent malpractice, to prevent doctors who shouldn't be practicing from practicing."
The governor said that the signing of the bill is the most important step being taken in the health care system, making it safer. He added that patients and their families have the right to know who will be taking care of them. Pataki said that this bill will be the "most comprehensive bill in America allowing the ordinary person to get all the information they need to make the right choice in receiving health care in our state. It is a very important piece of legislation, because we are talking literally about choices that could be a matter of life or death."
In addition to having information on doctors, the website and 800 number will also offer report cards on hospitals and other companies that provide health care. This feature was designed to help users learn more about the companies, and to know that they are responsible. The bill also mandates that patients have access to knowledge about every single person who will be present in the operating room when they have surgical procedures. Pataki feels that having the knowledge available of who is in the room at all times will help avoid possible future medical tragedies.
Specifically, the profiles that patients can access on the site include: biographical information, including any partners and hospitals which have granted the doctor practice privileges; details of criminal convictions, state disciplinary actions, and malpractice judgments made within the past 10 years; and healthcare plans in which the doctor participates.
"By compiling these physician profiles and hospital and health care report cards, we also have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes that have jeopardized patient safety and in some cases, led to tragic results. This bill closes those loopholes that have led to poor patient care and provides a mechanism to quickly identify and fix others as they occur," said Hannon.
Ilene Corina, director of P.U.L.S.E. of New York (Persons United Limiting Substandards and Errors in Healthcare), a nonprofit organization and support group for survivors and victims of medical malpractice and substandard healthcare, spoke at the meeting about losing her first-born son 10 years ago to a physician's negligence.
"My son was the surgeon's first error," Corina said," but his case was hidden away, and gave the surgeon clearance to do this again and again." Corina added that this bill will aid in eliminating such circumstances from happening in the future.
There were others in attendance who had lost loved ones to a physician's negligence. Hannon recognized, while working to push the bill through the Senate, that there are many people whose lives could have been saved if such a law existed in the past, and for that reason the bill was not passed for just one person alone.
At the end of the event, after thanking all in attendance, Hannon told the audience that holding the signing at the Farmingdale Public Library is very significant of what the bill offers. "Holding this at the library is a striking example of what we're trying to illustrate about greater information and access."