Creating fake patients to score drugs not enough to get Winnipeg doctor fired

Stephen Coyle pleaded guilty to 14 charges of professional misconduct in April and has been ordered to pay $40,000.

The job of a doctor involves diagnosing real people in need of real help, keeping accurate health records and always remembering that the drugs are for the patients. But apparently doing the exact opposite of all of that isn’t quite enough to get you fired.

The Canadian Press reported this week that Dr. Stephen John Coyle, the former chief medical officer at Winnipeg’s Misericordia Health Centre, is still allowed to practice after creating fictitious patients in order to score drugs.

Coyle pleaded guilty to 14 counts of professional misconduct in April, after an 18-month investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba.

According to the official report, Coyle created fake patients, recorded false patient visits and prescribed drugs to patients who didn't need them in order to feed his own drug dependency.

The college also found that he "engaged in the practice of medicine while under the influence of injectable Demerol and/or benzodiazepines while his ability to practice medicine was impaired, thereby committing acts of professional misconduct.”

He was fined $40,000, suspended for 18 months, which was served during the course of the investigation, and subjected to various other penalties, drug tests and limitations.

But he can still practice medicine.

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The college wrote:

The fact that Dr. Coyle has successfully resumed the practice of medicine and has practiced pursuant to those very strict conditions for over a year, demonstrates that the conditions are practical and efficacious, and that the public good can be served by allowing a trained and educated physician, like Dr. Coyle, to practice medicine pursuant to a carefully designed set of conditions designed to safeguard the interests of the public.

It is hard to believe that creating fictitious records and clients in order to score drugs, and then working while on those drugs, isn't a dismissible offence.

Is Winnipeg is such dire need for doctors that they are willing to overlook anything? Actually, no. Manitoba has a record number of doctors at the moment.

The ruling suggests an overwhelming level of tolerance for those battling drug addictions, with a number of measures being implemented to help Coyle beat the habit.

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But as Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr. writes, that tolerance doesn't necessarily translate to the public. He compares Coyle's story to that of Faron Hall, a homeless man who was sent back to jail after breaching probation by being drunk in public.

"Coyle, the former chief medical officer of the Misericordia Health Centre, must adhere 'to a carefully designed set of the conditions to protect the public good,'" Sinclair writes.

"And how, in Hall's case, is the public good protected by imposing an unrealistic probation term such as not being drunk in a public place. When public places are his home."

The idea that a higher station in life, such as an advanced level of professional training, should forgive such blatant impropriety and misconduct is farcical.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, there are 38,000 family physicians working in Canada this year, and just short of 27,000 other specialized doctors. Another approximately 2,500 MDs are awarded by Canadian universities every year, with countless more foreign-trained doctors also searching for work in the country (often with little success).

It may be considered to be in the good of the public to keep Coyle in the field. But it’s also possible the only people who would miss him are the fictitious patients he created to help him score drugs.

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