What to do when your doctor is misbehaving

The Texas Medical Board recently suspended the medical license of a pediatrician, Kurt Loring Pflieger, M.D., who practiced in Rockwall and Forney, because of his apparent unstable mental health status.

Practicing pediatrician in a mental health breakdown

It is always sad to see someone suffer from a mental health condition and physicians, like everyone else, are not immune from having such problems. When a doctor continues to practice medicine, with an unstable, untreated mental health illness, it can pose an immediate danger to patient safety.

What caught my attention about the Texas Medical Board’s April 6, 2018 Order of Temporary Suspension (Without Notice of Hearing) is that it took over three months of “impaired practice” before the Board did anything to step in, get Dr. Pflieger help, and protect his patients.

The Board Order contains details of bizarre and inappropriate behavior by Kurt Loring Pflieger, M.D.

The staff at Rockwall Pediatrics observed the pediatrician to be distracted and preoccupied, failing to complete his patient encounters, failing to complete or submit electronic prescriptions, issuing prescriptions in error, and crossing physician-patient boundaries by obsessively sharing personal photos, stories, and information with patients, employees, and drug representatives.

In February 2018, Dr. Pflieger was “rough-housing“ with a two-year-old brother of a patient. He attempted to throw the little boy onto his shoulder, but overshot, causing the boy to fall, land on his back, and hit his head on the exam room floor.

On another date in February, the office staff observed the physician in an apparent manic state and overheard him yelling “Satan!” while in an encounter with two patients.

Also in February, the pediatrician appeared to lose focus on a cardiac patient during a stress test, and instead chatted with and showed photographs to the patient’s mother about a vacation he had taken. The medical assistant terminated the stress test out of concern for the patient’s safety because the patient was complaining of increased pain as the test became more physically demanding.

In March 2018, Dr. Pflieger handed out prescription pads to the front office staff and told them to write prescriptions if they needed to. The billing manager for the office practice immediately collected the prescription pads and instructed the staff that it was illegal for anyone other than a provider to write prescriptions.

Later that same month, the doctor was scheduled to work in the pediatric practice’s Forney clinic, but had not arrived at the office for his first appointment and a patient was waiting. When clinic staff called to find out where he was, the doctor had slurred speech and said that he had overslept. He was often up to two hours late to work and late returning from lunch, causing patients to leave the clinic without being seen. Dr. Pflieger frequently had slurred speech after his late arrivals to the office.

There were two instances in which Dr. Plfieger and his staff discussed his mental status. On one occasion, he asked his billing manager if she thought he was acting strangely. The billing manager said yes and encouraged him to see someone about it, but the physician dismissed her concern. On another occasion, when the pediatrician returned late from lunch and was questioned why, he stated that, “I’m in a full-blown manic episode and I’m not sleeping.” His staff again encouraged him to see a mental health professional.

Other inappropriate behavior with his staff during this time included inappropriate touching and sexually harassing comments. By March 2018, Dr. Plfieger was showing up for work in an unkempt state, wearing the same sweatpants and red shirt, with wild hair. In early April 2018, he arrived at work in his pajamas, crying and very emotional.

What you can do

Section 164.059 of the Texas Medical Practice Act allows the Texas Medical Board to temporarily suspend or restrict the medical license of a physician if it determines from the evidence presented to it that the physician’s continued practice of medicine would constitute a threat to public welfare.

Unfortunately, the Texas Medical Board typically reacts to these situations at a snail’s pace. I cannot help but think of all the patients who were potentially placed in danger during the three-month period that this physician was allowed to continue practicing medicine in a compromised state. It reminds me of a case that I handled in the Dallas area.

I represented a young man who was rendered quadriplegic by the operating room conduct of an impaired neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch, M.D. While piles of patient and physician complaints accumulated at the Texas Medical Board, Dr. Duntsch was allowed to continue operating on patients while under the influence of illegal drugs, such as cocaine. One fellow neurosurgeon was so shocked at Dr. Duntsch’s operating room techniques that he called the medical school where Dr. Duntsch had trained to see if someone might be impersonating him. He was convicted of injury to an elderly person, leading to what USA Today described as the “first surgeon to be sentenced to prison for a botched surgery.”

Based on my experience as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I do not believe that Texans can reasonably expect the Texas Medical Board to adequately police physician impairment and misconduct. Instead, I recommend that patients remain vigilant and observant concerning any potential concerns about their healthcare providers.  If the physician behaves in a strange or erratic fashion, I believe the safest course of action is to stop treatment immediately and find a new doctor.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of an impaired physician or any other type of medical malpractice, call the experienced attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare providers. He is a former editor-in-chief of The Houston Lawyer magazine and currently serves on the editorial board of the Texas Bar Journal.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.