Doctors Protest Misconduct Charges Over Lyme Disease
A group of doctors who treat Lyme disease and about 400 patients with the disease rallied yesterday in New York City to protest charges brought against a Long Island physician for improperly treating his patients, the
New York Times reports. The New York State Office of Professional Misconduct opened a hearing last week alleging that Dr. Joseph Burrascano failed to treat Lyme disease patients "properly or to follow up adequately on their conditions," according to the Times. This battle is part of an ongoing dispute in the medical community on how best to treat Lyme disease. One side believes the best course of action is to give patients antibiotics for 30 days. The opposing group, which includes Burrascano, "believes that in perhaps 10% of the illnesses, long term clinical and antibiotic treatment is needed" (Noble, New York Times, 11/10). In one case, Burrascano medicated a patient, Sharon Wilner, for three years, after her initial four-week treatment proved unsuccessful (Lasalandra, Boston Herald, 11/10). Five of Burrascano's patients involved in the misconduct charges appeared at yesterday's rally to defend the doctor, saying the charges of negligence were false and that he "had brought them back to health or had improved their conditions after long periods of suffering." The patients also decried the use of their medical files without their consent, as one woman called the misconduct office's tactics a "kind of medical McCarthyism." Twenty doctors from 10 states, Germany and Switzerland have signed a petition supporting Burrascano stating that he is an "international leader in establishing medical and ethical standards for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic [infectious] diseases."
The dispute surrounding Burrascano likely will affect the manner in which Lyme disease patients receive treatment. The protesters yesterday said that 50 doctors nationwide have been subject to investigation or discipline for treating Lyme disease patients, a statistic that has had a "chilling effect on the willingness of other doctors to treat the disease" (New York Times, 11/10). "If [Burrascano] goes down, doctors like him will never touch another Lyme patient," his patient Wilner said (Boston Herald, 11/10). Burrascano supporters believe that insurance companies and the "doctors who work as their consultants" have a financial interest in seeing physicians prescribe the four week regimen of antibiotics (New York Times, 11/10). Most insurance companies will only cover treatment for up to this amount of time (Boston Herald, 11/10). Michael Schoppmann, a lawyer who has represented more than 40 doctors in hearings, said, "The treatment of Lyme disease and its financial implications are the insurance industry's worst nightmare. No one dies from Lyme disease, no one is cured, and many patients require years of expensive treatment." Dr. Charles Cutler, chief medical officer of the American Association of Health Plans, responded that their concern was the risk of overusing antibiotics. "Our concern is for good quality care, and in this instance and others, good quality can cost less. But we have no financial incentive; our overriding intent is to do the right thing" (New York Times, 11/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.