Tag Archives: disciplined doctors

Duluth duo investigates disciplined doctor

The latest crop of disciplined doctors stories, spearheaded by the work of ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, has focused on problem caregivers in the aggregate, with liberal use of anecdotes. Now, Brandon Stahl and Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune have assembled an investigation that proves there’s still plenty of room for a disciplined docs piece with just one subject.

Working from court records and a state reprimand, the Minnesota duo found that Stefan Konasiewicz, a highly paid neurosurgeon who practiced in the city for much of the past decade, was the target of nigh on a dozen malpractice suits.

When he moved from Duluth about three years ago, Konasiewicz left behind two dead patients, one woman paralyzed from the neck down and six others who say his treatment caused them serious physical harm.

His former employer, St. Luke’s hospital, was aware of the harm Konasiewicz was alleged to have caused and yet continued to let him practice, according to records obtained and interviews conducted by the News Tribune.

The exhaustive report that follows is a tribute to their investigative tenacity, loaded with quotes from colleagues who long questioned Konasiewicz’ judgment and a careful, painstaking rundown of the malpractice cases filed against the embattled surgeon.

For more on how they searched court records to find malpractice cases, and on why malpractice suits in the state face such high hurdles, see Stahl’s sidebar.

Critics say New York soft on disciplining dentists

The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard‘s James Mulder has found that, when it comes to cracking down on less-than-competent dentists, his state appears pretty lax.


Photo by radiant guy via Flickr

In New York, the 18,000 dentists are among, Mulder writes, the 800,000 people from “48 professions — from acupuncturists to veterinarians — policed by the state Education Department’s Office of Professional Discipline.” Last year, the board disciplined 24 of them, revoked the licenses of two and accepted the surrender of four more licenses.

The office took 1.54 disciplinary actions per 1,000 dentists last year, about half the rate of disciplinary actions taken against medical doctors and physician assistants. Discipline against doctors accused of misconduct in New York is handled by a different arm of state government — the state Health Departments Office of Professional Medical Conduct.
Also, the number of serious disciplinary actions against New York dentists declined by 53 percent between 2006 and 2010.

N.Y. reporter finds local doctors in ProPublica database

Writing for Gannett’s Binghamton, N.Y., Press & Sun-Bulletin, Julia Hunter localized ProPublica’s investigation of pharmaceutical companies and disciplined doctors by starting with the nonprofit’s database, then adding some investigation of her own. She names names, talks with local physicians and uncovers anecdotes.

There are plenty of tales of medical malfeasance, including that of Dr. Robert Douenias, who lied about a previous criminal conviction when applying for a New York medical license. Until recently, Douenias had spoken on behalf of Avodart to prevent prostate cancer. “He said he stopped because he didn’t want to be associated with the controversial practice of speaking on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.” The FDA has since “voted against the approval of Avodart as a cancer risk-reduction method.”

Hospital management says it wasn’t aware of the physician’s previous conviction, and that it wouldn’t be looking into it further. After all, Hunter writes, “99 percent of patient surveys indicated a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ experience with Douenias.”

St. Louis reporters find felons practicing medicine

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Blythe Bernhard and Jeremy Kohler tell the story of an ophthalmologist to show how a convicted felon can be allowed to return to medical practice, sometimes in the same state in which he or she was convicted. The ophthalmologist in question went to prison after lying to patients, defrauding Medicare and obstructing the resulting investigation, yet now works in an Illinois clinic and has permission to reapply for his Missouri license.

The investigation is strengthened by two sidebars, one listing examples of other felons/physicians and the other explaining how and why an ophthalmologist lied to patients and Medicare about what he was injecting into their eyes.

For the record, my favorite sentence in the entire piece is “Medical boards don’t release statistics on how many active licensees are convicted felons.” It certainly would make things easier.

Earlier stories from Bernhard and Kohler document similar problems with a lack of openness of records and how disciplined doctors can still keep their records clean:

AHCJ members can read about how the pair have done much of the reporting on this ongoing project.

ProPublica investigates pharma payments to doctors

ProPublica’s massive investigation into the hefty fees pharmaceutical companies have paid doctors with dubious track records stamps an exclamation point on what has been a banner year for high-profile assaults on pharma-paid physician/marketers.

Books like Daniel Carlat’s Unhinged and Carl Elliot’s White Coat, Black Hat, and the promotional tours that came with them, led the charge and raised awareness of an issue that reporters Charles Ornstein (you may know him as AHCJ’s president), Tracy Weber and Dan Nguyen have driven home with tens of thousands of carefully researched data points and one flagship story.

The ProPublica database is built upon the voluntary disclosures of seven drug manufacturers (Eli Lilly, Cephalon, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer) which represent about 36 percent of the market. Reform law requires the other manufacturers to make similar disclosures by 2013. The package uncovered a bucket of horror stories — that mug shot of high-earner Dr. Donald Ray Taylor next to the paragraph describing why he was disciplined is the very definition of “disturbing” — yet also distinguished itself by giving doctors who rep pharma the opportunity to explain both their work and their motivation.

In its examination of pharma payments, the investigation goes beyond a simple database match with disciplinary records. Some physician/marketers had clearly earned their stripes and displayed impressive resumes and relevant research records, the reporters found, but others had disciplinary records, lacked any board certification or publications or appeared to have been manufactured by the drug-makers themselves.

“It’s sort of like American Idol,” said sociologist Susan Chimonas, who studies doctor-pharma relationships at the Institute on Medicine as a Profession in New York City.

“Nobody will have necessarily heard of you before — but after you’ve been around the country speaking 100 times a year, people will begin to know your name and think, ‘This guy is important.’ It creates an opinion leader who wasn’t necessarily an expert before.”

If you can’t get enough of the investigation, see the work by ProPublica’s partners at The Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, the Chicago Tribune, Nightly Business Report and NPR.

Finally, don’t miss the comments on the article, headlined by a lengthy response from the leading pharmaceutical industry group.