Elderly Doctor May Lose Medical License Due In Part To Lack Of Computer Skills

Posted on November 10, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Do physicians need to be computer-literate to run a safe and effective medical practice? The question has come into high relief recently as an 84-year-old New Hampshire physician fights to get her medical license reinstated.

Dr. Anna Konopka, who recently lost her license due in part to a lack of computer skills, is suing the New Hampshire Board of Medicine in an effort to get it reinstated.

Back in September, Konopka had signed an agreement to surrender her license with the medical board. The agreement settled pending allegations regarding her “record-keeping, prescribing practices, and medical decision-making,” according to an article in Ars Technica. The agreement reportedly permits her to apply to regain her license, but to succeed in doing so she’d have to prove that she did no wrong.

In her interview with the publication, the elderly physician denied any misconduct and said she was under duress when she voluntarily surrendered her license previously. She has said that she wants to continue practicing medicine, but does not want to participate in what she calls “electronic medicine.”

“I am getting the patients from the system [her term for the medical bureaucracy surrounding the use of EMRs today], and I see how badly they are mistreated and misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all,” she told Ars Technica. “Therefore, I am not going to compromise patients’ lives or health for the system.”

For what it’s worth, Konopka’s troubles with the state medical board didn’t arise from computer use or lack thereof. They were triggered when a formal complaint was filed with the board alleging that she treated a young patient with asthma incorrectly.

The dispute resulted in a formal reprimand from the medical board in April 2017. The board also required her to undergo 14 hours of medical training as a condition of continuing to practice. After that, other investigations followed, including disputes over the scope of her original agreement with the medical board.

Ordinarily, Konopka’s struggles for reinstatement might never have come to public view. What differentiates them from others is the role her unwillingness to use computers has played in the process. Specifically, unless she learns to use the Internet, she won’t be able to comply with the state’s new law requiring her to access an online opiate monitoring program. (As part of her attempts to regain her license, she’s agreed to do so.)

It’s hard to tell who is right in this particular case, but the situation does raise interesting questions about the role of computer use in medical practice generally.

Should physicians be required to use computers as part of their practice in this day and age, and if so, what level of competency should they be required to attain? Are there specific pieces of software, such as EMRs, they have become as important to medicine as a stethoscope was in a prior era? Should use of health IT software be a required part of all medical training at this point?

I don’t have any answers to these questions, and you may not either. But if a doctor’s license can be threatened, even in part, by failing to use computer technology, we’d better work on finding some.