Contraindications: Dr. Neil Hollander
Dr. Neil Hollander of Huntington Beach, Calif., looked to be just another doctor who had misplaced his notes in November 2003 when he agreed to settle a Medical Board of California case by taking a record keeping course.
The story had to be more interesting than that. These cases often involve a lot of back and forth between the boards and the doctors and their attorneys. The board would not have launched an investigation of a doctor just because his records were sloppy. The only clue here is that the board cited three of Hollander's patients, saying that Hollander had given them respiratory therapy but failed to document the treatments. So Hollander was able to skate away with a three-year probation. And the story of what really happened to those three patients remained hidden.
Two years later, his bad record keeping tripped him up again. And this time the back story was revealed.
Hollander had been seeing a family to care for their newborn son for two years. The parents complained repeatedly, according to the medical board, that their son was having trouble walking and keeping his balance. They asked to be sent to a specialist but were not given the authorization.
"They specifically referred to him having an increasingly unsteady, wide, and, ultimately, a 'waddling' gate," Medical Board Executive Director David T. Thornton wrote in the accusation against Hollander. "This is a description of ataxia, which is a neurological finding of conditions that damage the cerebellum."
The boy's condition worsened. He had trouble picking up toys, holding his head up and talking. He became depressed and, at about 2 years of age, started vomiting for no reason. By the time the parents found a doctor who would help them, he was five months shy of his third birthday. The news was bad. He had a brain tumor that had to be surgically removed. The tumor and the surgery left him impaired. The family sued.
And that's when, according to the medical board, Hollander started altering the boy's medical records.
This time, he was charged with more than just sloppiness. The medical board went after him for gross negligence, incompetence and the rare but damning charge of dishonesty. The accusation was filed in July 2005. Two years later, Hollander was disciplined.
Kind of. In August 2007, his probation was extended another two years.
Then it turned out that bad record keeping and altering medical records were the least of Hollander's vices. He was criminally charged by the California attorney general in October 2007 with health benefits fraud, representing fraudulent claims, grand theft and money laundering to the tune of more than $1 million. He worked out a plea bargain with state prosecutors and was given three years of probation in March 2009. More probation might not seem like much. But the criminal conviction triggered another medical board action.
And this time, he lost his license.
If you want to learn more about how to write about the regulators tasked with keeping doctors like Hollander honest, you can attend my friend Charles Ornstein's session on oversight of health professionals at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Seattle this Friday, April 17.