Today a jury in West Texas is hearing evidence that a nurse, acting in bad faith, tried to run a doctor out of town by filing an anonymous complaint with the Texas Medical Board. The case is Texas v. Mitchell, No. 5612 (Andrews County, Texas, presiding Judge Jim Rex).
The case is making national news, even in the New York Times. It is the first case in memory to enforce the law against misuse of the complaint process and private patient information to harass a physician.
It has been open season for false allegations against physicians for too long. Each year too many physicians are distracted or even destroyed by malicious claims about them, whether in malpractice cases, sham peer review by hospitals or health plans, or witch-hunts by medical boards.
Is nurse Anne Mitchell guilty of acting in bad faith? The jury will decide.
The blogosphere is filled with rants against the doctor, Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr., M.D.; the prosecutor; and West Texas itself. The doctor has dark skin, a foreign accent, and some unconventional ideas. But his ideas and his practice are not on trial. The question before the court is whether the nurse, not the doctor, acted wrongfully.
The broader question is whether doctors or other Americans can be disparaged, subjected at a minimum to tens of thousands of dollars in defense costs, and even deprived of their livelihood, on the basis of false, bad-faith allegations—while the complainant hides behind anonymity, immunity, and a presumption that she is only trying to protect the public.
“Accountability for false complaints is long overdue,” said Jane Orient, M.D., Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).