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Checking out your doctors should mean full disclosure

Your anesthesiologist is battling his own addiction to alcoholism and since 2006 has entered six settlement agreements with the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners. Three times his suspension was stayed and he was allowed to keep practicing while on probation. One stay was for nine months, one for a year, the third didn’t have a set time.

Should he have to tell you, his patient, why he’s on probation during those three periods?

This is not hypothetical, folks.

It’s the real case of Dr. Ronald Foote of Las Vegas, an anesthesiologist and pain management doctor who tries, but repeatedly fails, to control what he calls his “disease.” Alcoholism. He denied multiple sex addiction allegations but agreed in his sixth settlement with the Medical Examiners Board, signed June 3, to get therapy for it.

Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project says doctors should be required to disclose why they are on probation, even though the information might be found on state websites.

In a May cover story titled “What You Don’t Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You,” the magazine detailed how it examined the regulation of California medical doctors and asked the medical board there to require a doctor to tell patients if there is disciplinary action.

The California board said not a chance. It could hurt the doctor-patient relationship. And it puts a burden on the doctor. The American Medical Association opposes it.

After all, patients can check out their doctors on medical board websites and through court proceedings.

Any regular reader of my column knows checking out your doctors is one of my constant recommendations. In columns and talks, I urge people to do a records check on their doctors. Vast amounts of information are available on both the Nevada Board of Medical Examiners website at http://medboard.nv.gov/ and at the Board of Osteopathic Medicine at www.osteo.state.nv.us/

It’s not always clearly written, but information is there.

Take Foote.

He’s had disciplinary actions taken against him by the board in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2014 and now 2016.

His insurance company paid out a $925,000 claim because his placement of an epidural followed by esophageal misintubation allegedly resulted in cardiac arrest and permanent brain damage to a patient, according to the medical board’s records.

That malpractice occurred in 2004 and was the cause of his first nine-month stayed suspension in 2007. His one-year stayed suspension in 2009 was for failing to report multiple DUI arrests. The 2011 stayed suspension was also alcohol-related.

Foote has another malpractice case set for trial in September alleging he traded drugs for sex with a female patient.

Court records show he had a malpractice case pending filed by a female patient who alleged he “grabbed her buttocks, telling the patient she was attractive and prescribing her oxycodone and Xanax without taking an in-depth medical history,” according to Las Vegas Review-Journal medical reporter Pashtana Usufzy’s Saturday story.

The board suspended his license indefinitely in 2014 to give him time to enter an addiction therapy program. But earlier this year, he returned to ask to be reinstated.

Usufzy detailed how and why the board allowed Foote to return to work. This is Foote’s sixth settlement agreement, if anyone is counting.

Ultimately, the board on June 3 decided the current case involving his violation of the 2009 and 2011 settlement agreements to stop drinking wasn’t strong enough.

A settlement with conditions to protect patients was better than going through a hearing that could take months to resolve and where he might get his right to practice without any restrictions, according to Executive Director Edward Cousineau.

“We can immediately suspend him again if he violates the settlement agreement,” Cousineau said.

What are the odds?

Although mostly written in legalese, which is one of the complaints Consumer Reports had about many medical board websites, there is enough information online to raise multiple red flags about Foote on the board’s website. If people could be bothered to look.

Cousineau also said he is working on a regulation that would do exactly what Consumer Reports recommended: Require doctors on probation to tell patients why they’re on probation.

He will propose regulation to the board later in the year and expects pushback from the medical community.

Cousineau, who has been on the board’s staff since 2006, said that he had been thinking about such a regulation for several years and the Consumer Reports article prompted him to proceed with the idea again. Whether the medical board will approve the idea is uncertain.

I don’t give it a chance.

Improving the website summaries to make it clear why a doctor is on probation would probably be more helpful to the public.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays. Leave messages for her at 702-383-0275 or email jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison

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