In S.C., Media Seek Public Access to Doctors' Disciplinary Records

By: (AP) South Carolina media representatives testified yesterday in support of an amendment that would require doctors' disciplinary records to be available to the public.

South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers and The (Hilton Head) Island Packet Executive Editor Fitz McAden spoke to a House subcommittee about their proposal.

The House Medical Occupational Regulation and Licensing Boards subcommittee approved a bill that would provide for two additional lay members of the state Board of Medical Examiners. The amendment was not included in that bill. Rogers said he would continue to work with lawmakers and members of the board on an amendment.

A message left with a spokesman for the Board of Medical Examiners was not immediately returned.

McAden said his newspaper has been denied access to records regarding a cardiologist who was suspended by the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center.

"We were able to -- by ferreting out sources and getting documents from the Department of Motor Vehicles -- write some stories and tell the folks in the community that this doctor had a problem," McAden said. "We didn't do that to invade his privacy or cause any harm to him. We did it because we thought the public should know that a doctor ... has an issue."

In a closed hearing in October, the state Administrative Law Court ordered Dr. James D. Johnston to stop practicing medicine until he completes an alcohol-abuse treatment program.

Johnston's license had been suspended at least twice in the past -- in 2001 and last year -- by the medical board, which cited a substance-abuse problem.

In a settlement disclosed by the court, Johnston was permitted to continue administrative work, including dictation and documentation involving patients he saw before Oct. 29, but he was barred from seeing any patients until the medical board clears him to do so.

The order also required him to enroll in an inpatient alcohol treatment program in Atlanta or give up his license to practice by Jan. 1, 2005.

The court order says Johnston may not practice medicine in South Carolina until the medical board decides that he can.

The medical board's earlier suspensions of Johnston's license were overturned on appeal by the state Administrative Law Court. The court also imposed a gag order prohibiting the medical board from making any statements about Johnston's cases.

The Island Packet has asked the state Supreme Court to force the lower court to open the proceedings.

Though the order bars Johnston from practice until he is rehabilitated, the medical board's Web site continues to list him as a physician "in good standing" with no disciplinary action taken against him.


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