Stigma starts from the top. That’s the conclusion Dr. Lady and I have come to. Her name isn’t actually Dr. Lady, but that is her pseudonym for this article. She likes her privacy. Eventually, she may write her own thoughts on this topic (under her real name), but it won’t be until she is out of hot water with the Medical Board of California.
This column has covered the embarrassing lack of privacy mentally ill doctors encounter when they run into trouble with the Medical Board of California. In regards to this topic, Dr. Lady has come forward with her own story of struggle.
Unfortunately, this column is not investigative, so this is only an examination of official documentation from the Medical Board of California and a “Dear Abby” type of communication. A woman wrote to me via e-mail (“Dear Abby” style), and I phoned her. She revealed what she says is her physician’s license number, and I used that to read through documents attached to the license number on the Board’s website. The petition to revoke (her license) is available for public viewing but not linked to here for moral reasons. The document has graphic details about her battle with mental illness. Her suicide attempts, overdoses, involuntary hospitalizations, accusations of substance abuse, past psychosis, and other personal details are written about in the report.
Dr. Lady may or may not be the physician behind the license number, but she did point out some very intriguing things about the Board’s documentation of the case. Though documentation regarding her on the Board’s website is damning, Dr. Lady voiced a number of concerns that sound valid. At the very least, it’s food for thought while reading about impaired physicians on the site.
Concern #1: A doctor working on behalf of the Board recommended Dr. Lady be declared an impaired physician. Dr. Lady never met this doctor and thinks this makes the opinion inappropriate.
Shockingly, in a review of the Board’s documentation, this appears to be true. It never states in the report that she was seen by the doctor who gave his/her opinion about her ability to practice medicine. It only says he/she “opined” that Dr. Lady is an impaired physician “after an extensive review of additional investigative and medical records…” She is none too happy that this mystery doctor gave an opinion about her level of impairment without examining her.
Concern #2: She says she only met with the investigator working on behalf of the Board for ten minutes.
Interestingly, the Board’s document says very little about her meeting with the investigator and never states how long the meeting lasted. It states she told the investigator the name of her doctor, her medical conditions, and the names of her prescription medications. It also says the investigator noted her “speech was delayed and she had difficulty putting words together.”
The part about her speech difficulties appears to be related to the next paragraph in the report, which states the investigator obtained a CURES (Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System) report two months later. Her many prescriptions over the last three years consisted mostly of opiates and benzodiazepines (all prescribed by the same doctor).
It looks like the Board wanted to establish a link between her behavior with the officer and the controversial CURES report. However, it would be of public benefit to know how long the interaction with the officer lasted and more details about the nature of their meeting. This would help clarify if there was a link between her medications and her reported behavior with the officer.
Concern #3: There is an unexplained time lapse in the Board’s document.
There is a suspicious time lapse in the document. Near the end of the document, it is stated that Dr. Lady tried to kill herself. After this part, there is a sudden three-month jump into the future. The Board’s doctor has done his “extensive review” of her records and has informed the Board that he believes her to be an impaired physician.
According to Dr. Lady, she spent the better part of those three missing months being observed round-the-clock in an inpatient facility. A psychiatrist evaluated her over the course of 36 hours and concluded by the end of it that she was no longer impaired. She successfully completed treatment, and she claims the psychiatrist who treated her reported this to the Board via letter. This was a few weeks before the doctor working for the Board said he/she considered her to be impaired. There is no documentation of any of this in the Board’s petition to revoke.
Whatever the truth of the matter is, she is right that the gap in the Board’s record should be filled in. It’s valid information for the public to know, because it has to do with her level of impairment. The document seems to intentionally skirt the issue of what happened to her after the suicide attempt.
Concern #4: Her privacy has been compromised.
Ultimately, Dr. Lady is concerned that there is too much information about her on the Medical Board of California’s website. She is upset because she thinks her mental health issues have been portrayed as disciplinary problems and insists she has never worked while impaired. She believes the Board is contributing to the stigma of mental illness.