Patient Safety Program Bill Frequently Asked Questions

The Law

1. Where can I find the new law?

2. When does the law become effective?

The legislation was signed into law by the Governor on August 5, 2008 and includes three effective dates.

  • Section 15 of the bill became effective September 1, 2008.
  • Sections 1-14, Sections 16-19, Section 21 and Sections 23-26 of the bill take effect on November 3, 2008 (90 days after enactment of the legislation).
  • Sections 20 and 22 take effect on January 1, 2009.

Providing More Information to Patients about Physician Misconduct

3. Why does the new law allow the Commissioner of Health to publicly disclose information gathered from an investigation by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC)? Aren't those investigations confidential?

Investigations conducted by the OPMC are confidential, except in certain situations pursuant to Section 230 of the Public Health Law. First, if the release of information gathered by the OPMC would minimize or avert a public health threat, the Commissioner, in his or her professional judgment, will be permitted to make such a disclosure. Second, the new law requires the public release of misconduct charges against a licensee under certain conditions. Neither of these situations, however, changes the confidential status of the OPMC investigation file.

4. Why is confidentiality of the OPMC investigative file important?

Confidentiality of the OPMC files protects both the public and the licensee who is the subject of an OPMC review. The public benefits because a confidential investigation is a more effective one; more people are willing to come forward and cooperate. This process also enhances the ability of the State Board for Medical Conduct to protect the public from licensees who commit misconduct. The licensee, who at the investigative stage has not been proven guilty of misconduct, will be protected from the public disclosure of information that may not be relevant to misconduct or may be relevant but unreliable. Relevance and reliability are established in the hearing process, not at the investigative stage.

5. The new law requires pending misconduct charges to be publicly released, even though no misconduct has yet been proven. Is that appropriate?

Yes, this disclosure is appropriate. Charges will be made public only in those cases where an Investigation Committee of the State Board for Medical Conduct has either unanimously agreed that the evidence collected in an investigation warrants a hearing, or has unanimously agreed that the facts and evidence warrant public release of charges. In order for an investigation to reach this point, evidence has been collected and has been reviewed at multiple levels by investigative staff, outside experts have been consulted whenever medical issues are involved, the Executive Secretary of the State Board has been consulted by the Director, and the Department's legal office has reviewed the investigative file for sufficiency and has agreed that charges are supported. The charges, when publicly released, will include a statement advising that the charges are "only allegations that may be contested by the licensee in an administrative hearing." This process will carefully balance the licensee's interests and the public's right to be informed.

6. When professional misconduct charges against licensees are made public, where can I find them?

The charges will be published on the New York State Department of Health's website at http://www.nyhealth.gov/. Go to the column titled "Current Issues" on the left hand side of the home page and select Physician Discipline.

7. May I still go to my physician if they have charges against him or her?

Yes, you may. The only exception to this is if the physician's ability to practice has been summarily suspended by an Order of the Commissioner of Health.

8. May an employer continue to employ or grant privileges to a physician if they have charges against him or her?

Yes, the employer may continue to employ or grant privileges to the physician, provided that the physician's ability to practice has not been summarily suspended by an Order of the Commissioner of Health.

9. If a Committee of the State Board for Professional Medical Conduct has issued its findings, conclusions, determination and order finding that my physician has committed professional misconduct but the time for the physician to appeal the order has not expired, can I still go to my physician? Can a hospital or other provider still employ the physician?

This depends on the discipline that has been imposed by the Committee. If the physician's license has been revoked, suspended or subjected to other discipline that would prevent him or her from practicing, the physician cannot treat patients.

10. If a physician appeals the Committee's findings, conclusions, determination and order, how will I know if the order is sustained or overturned?

The decisions by the Administrative Review Board, which considers appeals by the licensee or the Department of Health, are posted on the Department of Health website at http://www.nyhealth.gov/. Go to the column titled "Current Issues" on the left hand side and select Physician Discipline.

11. Why are the Board's findings, conclusions, determination and order regarding all charges now published?

The selection of a physician is one of the most important decisions that a patient makes about medical care and treatment. Unfortunately, patients often do not have sufficient information about whether a physician has engaged in or has been accused of misconduct. Since charges issued against the licensee will be published, making public the Board Committee's findings, conclusions, determination and order on each and every charge is in the best interests of the public. In most cases, the law also requires the publication to include a statement advising that the licensee or NYSDOH may seek further review of the order. Previously, when charges were not made public, only charges that the Board sustained were published.

12. If my doctor is professionally disciplined, is my doctor required to tell me?

Under the new law, a physician whose license is revoked or annulled without stay, surrendered, suspended without stay for more than 180 days or restricted to prohibit the practice of medicine or to preclude the delivery of patient care must provide written notification of the Board's action to patients and any hospitals, primary practice settings and health plans with whom the licensee is affiliated, within 15 days of when the order goes into effect. The new law requires the notification to contain specific information, including:

  • that the physician's license has been revoked or limited;
  • the names of other physicians or health care practitioners who have agreed to assume responsibility for the patient's care;
  • that the patient should contact one of those physicians or health care practitioners or another physician or health care practitioner of the patient's choice to determine the health care plans in which the physician or health care practitioner participates and the policies and procedures of such physician or health care practitioner;
  • that the patient should notify the physician of the name of the physician or health care practitioner to whom the patient's medical records should be transferred; and
  • that the physician will retain, and remain responsible for maintaining the patient's medical records until the patient notifies the physician that the records shall be transferred directly to the patient or to another physician or health care practitioner of the patient's choice.

13. What if my doctor's license has been revoked, annulled, suspended for more than 180 days without a stay or restricted and my doctor has not sent me the notice I am supposed to receive?

You should contact your physician. You should also contact the Office of Professional Medical Conduct by phone at 1-800-663-6114, by mail at 433 River Street, Troy, New York, 12180, or via email at opmc@health.state.ny.us.

For additional information about changes made by the new law to New York's professional medical conduct system, visit The Office of Professional Misconduct and Physician Discipline.

Physician Profile

14. The new law requires physicians to update their physician profiles within six months prior to the expiration of their current registration. Why? What happens if a physician does not comply?

One of the cornerstones of the Patient Safety Law is improving the public's access to timely information. Having access to the latest information about individual providers can assist patients and their loved ones make thoughtful, informed decisions when choosing a provider. The law's requirement establishes a specific timeframe for physicians to update their profile, which is a key source of information for the public.

The Patient Safety Law also establishes that a physician cannot re-register his or her license without attesting that the profile has been updated within the required time period. Without being registered, a physician cannot legally practice medicine within New York State. To learn more about the New York State Physician Profile website, visit http://www.nydoctorprofile.com/.

Enhancing Infectious Disease Control

15. Why have changes been made to the NYS Infection Control Training Syllabus?

Investigations of incidences of infection with bloodborne pathogens conducted by the Department have revealed lapses in infection control practices that may have placed people at risk for disease. In some cases, disease transmission has been documented. In response to these investigations, the new law mandates numerous changes to the Infection Control Training required of all health care professionals practicing in New York State. Effective September 1, 2008, the Department, in consultation with the State Council on Graduate Medical Education, must update the Infection Control Training Syllabus to: reflect current practice and standards, focus particular attention on instruction in standards of practice for which compliance is suboptimal based on the Department's experience, and emphasize the application of infection control standards and practices in outpatient and ambulatory settings.

16. What health care professionals are required to complete Infection Control Training?

In addition to those currently required to complete training (physicians, podiatrists, physician assistants, specialist assistants, dentists, dental hygienists, licensed practical nurses, optometrists and registered professional nurses), medical residents, medical students and physician assistant students are now required to complete training as part of their orientation program. Additionally, persons exempted from training due to the nature of their practice must now reapply for their exemption every four years.

For additional information about changes made by the new law to New York's infection control and education standards, visit Infection Control.

Additional Consumer Safeguards in the Law

17. What are multidose vials?

A multidose vial is a small sealed container holding more than one dose of medication, vaccine or fluid. As an example, vaccines often come in multidose vials so that multiple patients may be vaccinated from one vial. The advantages of multidose vials include being able to adjust dosage of medication easily, less waste of left-over medication, cost savings in packaging and ease of use. For the medication to remain sterile and safe for use between patients, a new sterile needle and syringe must be used every time the vial is entered.

18. What is the purpose of the study on multidose vials the Department must conduct?

The law requires DOH to conduct a study and issue a report and recommendations on whether restricting the use of multidose vials for the packaging of medications and requiring the use of disposable medical equipment engineered for single use is viable and would improve infection control practices. This is an important undertaking, as there is some evidence to suggest that multidose vials offer an unnecessary opportunity for the transmission of infections between patients and that requiring single use disposable equipment reduces this opportunity.

19. When must the report be issued and will it be available to the public?

The law requires DOH to conduct a study and issue a report and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature by January 1, 2009. Yes, the public will be able to obtain the report on the Department's website.

20. The new law requires physicians to make a pamphlet developed by the Department of Health available in their reception areas to their patients. How will this work? Will physicians be able to acquire additional pamphlets when the initial supply runs out?

This requirement is another example of the importance that Governor Paterson, the Legislature and the Department of Health place on getting information out to the public. The pamphlet is intended to provide a brief description of key Department programs and initiatives, with contact information if patients or others want more details about them. We believe that physician offices are a valuable distribution point for this information. The Department will have more information about the pamphlets and how physicians can request them in the near future.

For additional questions and answers concerning this law, please select from the following links: