Public records of misconduct proceedings against doctors must be limited in most cases to information related to substantiated charges, the New York Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The court agreed 7-0 with the arguments of a Manhattan doctor that by posting all the charges against him on a Web site -- even allegations not substantiated by the state Board for Professional Medical Conduct -- the state Health Department was unfairly linking the doctor to misconduct he did not commit.
The board brought charges against the doctor, who was not identified in court papers, for "willfully harassing, abusing" a patient, "moral unfitness" and "fraudulent practice." The charges largely concerned an alleged incident in which the doctor "intimately" massaged a patient and kissed her.
The doctor countered that the incident was of a "social nature" and the state board concluded that no professional misconduct had been proven, according to the court.
The board did reprimand the doctor for prescribing the antibiotic Cipro for the woman over the phone and failing to maintain a record of the scrip at his office.
The doctor sued when the record in the case was posted on the Health Department's Web site, containing information about the prescription the doctor was reprimanded for and the charges that were not sustained against him.
Health Department lawyers argued that the public would discount the allegations when it found that they were not substantiated by the misconduct board. But the court, New York's highest, said that is "unrealistic."
"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," Judge Robert S. Smith wrote for the court.
Smith said in instances where misconduct investigations result in "mixed" findings of guilt and innocence, it will be up to the Health Department to use its discretion to provide information to the public that is fair to the doctor and serves the public's need to know about physician wrongdoing.