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Will one bad apple spoil the bunch of doctors who work with him?

Most professionals, medical personnel included, have a duty to report the misconduct of a colleague. That misconduct may involve alcohol or drug impairment, incompetence or a violation of a code of ethics. The report may go to the appropriate state licensing board or to the police, depending on the conduct, or it may go to a supervisor or someone with authority over the professional. Failing to report may or may not result in discipline.

In the medical profession, the results of misconduct can be fatal. The slip of a scalpel, a dose of the wrong medication, a brief step away from a standard of practice -- the risks are enormous. And there are times when other professionals are the only witnesses, so the burden is on them to tell the powers that be.

These are some of the issues presented by the Michigan cancer doctor case. Two years ago, an office manager at a cancer clinic run by Dr. Farid Fata noticed a high rate of turnover among medical personnel. One departing oncologist explained the situation to him: Fata was administering chemotherapy treatments to patients who did not need them.

Patients with advanced cancer received chemotherapy, even after they had been moved to hospice. People who did not have cancer were treated with chemotherapy. People with one type of cancer were treated for more aggressive types of cancer that they did not have. (All of the treatments followed a series of expensive and unnecessary tests, too.) Fata poisoned 553 men and women with toxic chemicals, and then he billed insurance companies and Medicare. This had gone on for years.

The whistleblower alerted federal authorities in 2013. Fata was arrested in short order, and, last year, pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges. A judge recently sentenced him to 45 years in prison, not the 175 years the prosecutor had argued for.

What of his coworkers and colleagues who realized what was going on, though? If they did not report the conduct, would they also face criminal charges? Would the failure to act affect their medical licenses? Can Fata's patients sue them?

Should someone else's bad acts affect your license? A medical professional who suspects a colleague is violating the law or the code of ethics might want to consult with an attorney after notifying the board of medicine, hospital management or police.

Source: ABC News, "How Whistle-Blower Helped Expose Michigan Cancer Doctor," Lauren Effron, July 11, 2015

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