Doctor in pain case must attend education courses

The Medical Board of California has issued a severe reprimand to a physician accused of providing inadequate pain relief to a dying man, requiring him to attend advanced training to improve his performance. The action caps a series of legal settlements stemming from the case of patient Lester Tomlinson. Lawsuits were brought against several providers in Concord, CA. The plaintiffs settled against a hospital, a nursing home, and two physicians. One physician, Eugene Whitney, MD, faced formal charges from the state medical board in addition to his settlement.

According to the "Stipulation for Public Reprimand" filed by State Attorney General Bill Lockyer with the Division of Medical Quality Medical Board, Whitney is required to enroll in a clinical training or education program that will include a two-day assessment of his physical and mental health, and his competency to practice medicine. The course also must provide at least 40 hours of training in the areas relative to the alleged deficiency, and in addition, Whitney must enroll in a physician/patient communication course.

The action reflects "momentous change" in how authorities respond to allegations of inadequate pain relief, says Kathryn Tucker, JD, director of legal affairs for Compassion in Dying, a pain management advocacy group that supported the lawsuits. "It is a major victory for patients when compared to the resolution of the 1998 Bergman complaint where the medical board declined to take any action on similar facts."