Conn. court hears appeal of disciplined doctor

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Associated Press

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 3:07 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 14 at 3:08 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The lawyer for a controversial Connecticut doctor argued before the state Supreme Court on Thursday that a state board used a low standard of proof when it disciplined him for the way he treated two children with Lyme disease.

But an assistant state attorney general representing the Connecticut Medical Examining Board warned the justices that requiring more convincing proof would have wide-ranging effects on doctor discipline cases statewide by making it harder for the board to sanction doctors for wrongdoing.

Dr. Charles Ray Jones, 84 and still practicing in New Haven, has become a polarizing figure in the medical community because he believes Lyme disease is a chronic ailment that should be treated with long courses of antibiotics — one to three years on average. But national medical groups say there's no evidence that the disease is chronic or that long-term antibiotic treatment is effective.

Jones and his supporters say many doctors fail to diagnose Lyme disease when they're patients have it and only prescribe antibiotics for short periods of time, leading to needless suffering by thousands of people.

The Examining Board said Jones violated care standards by diagnosing two Nevada children with Lyme disease and prescribing antibiotics based only on phone conversations with their mother, months before he examined them in May 2004. The board reprimanded him, fined him $10,000 and put him on two years' probation in 2007.

Jones' lawyer, Elliott Pollack, told the court that the standard of proof used by the Examining Board is too low and should be increased. The Examining Board uses a "preponderance of evidence" standard, which requires that only a slim majority of evidence prove wrongdoing.

"Is that the standard we want to apply to physician discipline?" Pollack asked the justices. "Society has a huge investment in physicians. We want to be careful before a physician's license is revoked or a physician is disciplined."

Pollack said the board should use the "clear and convincing evidence" standard, the same one used by the state panel that disciplines lawyers. He cited a ruling by Washington state's Supreme Court, which said the preponderance of evidence standard was inadequate in doctor disciplinary proceedings.

Assistant Attorney General Henry Salton disputed Pollack's arguments and noted the state Supreme Court has previously ruled that the board's disciplinary process is constitutional. He said switching to the standard Jones wants would make much harder to discipline doctors.

"The clear and convincing standard shifts the burden substantially for the board," Salton said.

The court didn't rule Thursday. A decision may take several months.

Jones denied he violated care standards when treated the Nevada siblings. He said the children's health improved and he has successfully treated more than 10,000 children with Lyme disease. He also claimed one of the three members of an Examining Board subpanel that reviewed the allegations and made a recommendation to the full board was biased against doctors who believe in chronic Lyme disease.

"I feel wronged in the whole thing," Jones he said outside of the courtroom.

Five of Jones' supporters attended the arguments.

"The science is still evolving, but here they are persecuting a doctor," said Diane Blanchard, co-president of the Stamford-based Lyme Research Alliance. Jones treated her twin children for Lyme disease.

The influential Infectious Diseases Society of America says in its guidelines for doctors that there is no evidence chronic Lyme disease exists or that long-term antibiotic treatment is effective. In written testimony to Congress last year, the group said long-term antibiotic therapy will do patients more harm than good.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash, and infection can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system if left untreated and cause arthritis, numbness and memory problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the problems is no test can confirm whether someone has active Lyme disease. Jones says many tests are unreliable and too many doctors stop considering Lyme disease diagnoses if tests come back negative.

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