Troubled Team Doctor Could Lose License

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San Diego Chargers team physician David Chao, M.D. faces the suspension or revocation of his license to practice medicine for what California regulators call “acts of gross negligence” against three patients in 2007 and 2010. The California medical board’s action is the latest blow to Chao, who recently lost a malpractice suit by a patient who claimed Chao’s surgical repair of her knee disfigured her. The woman says Chao used a medical cold therapy device, in which he had a financial interest, that caused severe frostbite.

Three patients have claimed that Chao hurt them by ineptly performing surgery. In 2007, Chao allegedly caused neurovascular damage during hip surgery. Another hip surgery patient claimed that the operation caused “significant blood vessel lacerations.” The third patient says Chao mismanaged post-operative complications that caused a blood clot. Officials also criticized the doctor’s record keeping as inadequate. Chao was fined in 2002 for a similar violation. He was also reprimanded by the medical board for failing to report a drunk driving conviction as required by law.

Chao’s attorney says none of the complaints against him are valid, and his patient care has been reviewed and supported by experts. The Chargers aren’t commenting on the controversy surrounding their team doctor. The medical board is asking for a hearing on Chao’s fitness to practice, but resolving the case could take a year or more. Chao can still practice medicine in the meantime.

The lengthy process for reviewing a physician’s competence and possibly taking punitive action is a fact of life. Documenting and proving medical malpractice requires a skilled legal team with the expertise to understand the art and science of medicine, and challenge improper treatment decisions. The physician who makes a mistake may regret it, but the patient is the one who has to live with it.

Source: USA Today, “State seeks to put Chargers doctor on sideline,” Brent Schroenboer, 8/1/2012

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