TAMPA — A Sarasota physician dubbed "one of the most dangerous doctors" by a member of the Florida Board of Medicine faces a one-year suspension and $80,000 fine for improperly diagnosing prostate cancer.
In addition to the suspension and maximum fine allowed in such a case, Ronald Wheeler, a urologist with more than 25 years of experience, faces an evaluation and five years of supervised probation should he accept the board's settlement proposed Friday during a meeting in Tampa.
The board, made up of doctors, lawyers and a consumer advocate, considered measures to discipline Wheeler and other doctors, including ones from Riverview and St. Petersburg, they believe had violated the industry's standard of care.
The Florida Department of Health investigated Wheeler for two years following complaints from three patients for not abiding by the standards of care, two of which also include allegations of financial exploitation.
Wheeler has seven days to notify the board whether he'll accept the settlement. If he does not, there will be further board action.
Over eight years, Wheeler has treated more than 300 potential prostate cancer patients in what many other doctors consider an uncommon way. Industry standards indicate that the proper way to diagnose the disease is by taking a biopsy. Instead, Wheeler used an MRI image.
"Our technology has not yet reached that point where it is standard of care in the industry to definitively diagnose prostate cancer just based on X-ray and not getting a piece of tissue," said an expert, Florida Urology Partners urologist Malcolm Root, who is not involved in the disciplinary case.
After his diagnoses, Wheeler had advised the three men who later filed complaints to seek a $32,000 treatment in Mexico at a center where he serves as a consultant. The procedure is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and not covered by insurance.
Two of the three patients canceled the procedures in Mexico after getting second opinions.
"Everything I've done has been on the up-and-up, academically," Wheeler told the board.
But Zachariah P. Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale doctor on the board, and others expressed disapproval.
"You're treating patients who don't have a disease," Zachariah told Wheeler, emphasizing that an MRI alone does not provide a conclusive diagnosis.
Betty Jo Carter, a Ruskin general practitioner not trained in palliative care, also faces board discipline.
In February 2012, she cared for a 68-year-old terminally ill friend with kidney and liver disease. Carter spent nights in his house, administering regular doses of painkillers and anti-anxiety medication. She said she stepped in because he checked out of hospice care and refused to return.
The board proposed a $5,000 fine, half of the maximum permitted, along with mandatory courses. Members voted for relatively minor disciplinary actions because they believed Carter was not benefiting financially and was acting out of compassion.
Before this incident, she had a clean record spanning more than 30 years in practice.
"Dr. Carter will tell you that at all times, her focus was on the appropriate and compassionate end-of-life care for this patient," said Ken Beytin, her attorney.
Lawyers for both Carter and Wheeler said they were not yet sure whether their clients would accept the agreements.
The board also proposed fining St. Petersburg anesthesiologist Jeffrey Marder $10,000 for leaving an operating room while the patient was in cardiac arrest. The patient was transferred to the hospital's emergency room, where it was determined she had suffered brain damage.
Julie Kliegman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.