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CITY WARNS DOCS By STEPHANIE GASKELL
December 13, 2002 -- The city Health Department is warning doctors they could face malpractice suits if they don't push patients to kick the smoking habit - stunning physicians around the city who've never heard of such a case.
The Health Department's quarterly newsletter, mailed to doctors, devotes its entire November issue to nicotine addiction and issues a stern warning.
"Because physician intervention can be so effective, failure to provide optimal counseling and treatment is failure to meet the standard of care - and could be considered malpractice!" the newsletter states.
The mailing surfaced as the Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council have agreed on one of the strongest anti-smoking bills in the country, banning smoking in most bars, restaurants and public places.
Both doctors and lawyers expressed concern about the implications of medical malpractice cases against doctors for failing to treat nicotine addiction.
The American Medical Association said it's never heard of such a malpractice case, nor heard of any organization warning against such action. But the AMA declined to comment any further.
Scott Einiger, general counsel for the New York County Medical Society, called the Health Department's warning "an impossible standard."
"Somebody who's treating somebody for an addiction certainly has an obligation," Einiger said.
"But to suggest that all physicians are at risk [of being sued] is an impossible standard," he added.
"The words that were chosen [in the newsletter] weren't carefully selected," he said. "That cannot possibly be what our city health policy is."
Jeff Lichtman, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, said he's never heard of a medical malpractice case being brought against a doctor for failing to provide a treatment plan to stop smoking.
He also warned against allowing lawyers to set the standards of medical care.
A Health Department spokeswoman defended the mailing as a tool "to educate, influence and improve medical practice."
"We provide education and information to physicians and patients so that physicians can provide optimal treatment to their patients and also limit their potential liability," said spokeswoman Sandra Mullin.
-- Anonymous, December 13, 2002