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Iowa Court Clears Radiologist In Alcohol Case

April 26, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Neuroradiology
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The Iowa Court of Appeals has thrown out alcohol-related disciplinary action against a University of Iowa radiologist because of what the court called a “blatantly subpar investigation” by the Iowa Board of Medicine.

The ruling came Wednesday in a case involving Wendy R. K. Smoker, MD, a professor of neuroradiology. In 2011, the medical board fined her and placed her on five years of probation. It accused her of “excessive use of alcohol which may impair her ability to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety.”

What actions prompted that discipline? A colleague with whom she was not on good terms accused Dr. Smoker of being intoxicated at a professional dinner and at a Florida conference, both in 2009. Dr. Smoker admitted drinking wine twice at home and at the professional dinner. The medical board’s investigation didn’t substantiate the Florida conference allegation.

Nobody accused her of doing anything that affected patient care, teaching, or public safety. The board said there was “no evidence Dr. Smoker has consumed alcohol or been impaired while working, but she would become a danger to the public and her patients if she resumes actively drinking.”

That wasn’t good enough for the court. Its ruling said, according to KCRG-TV of Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Normally, the board investigates claims brought against physicians by interviewing the accused physician, witnesses, colleagues, and the complainant in order to determine whether the allegations are founded. In this case, however, no interviews were conducted.

Dr. Smoker is a diagnosed alcoholic. The Associated Press reported that when she came to Iowa in 2001, she participated in the Iowa Physician Health Program (IPHP) for alcohol treatment. She relapsed in 2003 but stayed sober for the next five years and was released from the program in 2008.

After the 2009 accusations, Dr. Smoker told IPHP coordinator Deb Anglin that she had slipped a couple of times but remained in Alcoholics Anonymous and saw no need to take further action.

A medical board–ordered evaluation concluded that Dr. Smoker suffered from alcohol dependence “in partial sustained remission that required monitoring.” However, the psychiatrist who did the evaluation testified to the board that he had no evidence that her ability to practice was impaired or that she presented a safety risk. Another doctor who evaluated the radiologist said she didn’t need monitoring.

The board ordered the fine and probation anyway, based on an executive summary of the investigation. Anglin wrote the summary. The board’s chief investigator never reviewed it, admitted that no interviews were conducted, and said he had no evidence to support the charges against Dr. Smoker.

This February, the medical board filed new charges that Dr. Smoker had failed to pay the $5,000 fine and that she had violated her probation by drinking alcohol while on vacation in another country. The Court of Appeals ruling didn’t address those charges. Medical board Executive Director Mark Bowden said the board would discuss at the end of this week how to proceed.

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