Iowa doctor loses legal challenge to licensing sanctions

By: - July 11, 2022 2:17 pm

A Polk County judge has upheld the state’s right to sanction an Iowa doctor who surrendered his Minnesota license while under investigation for substandard care. (Photo by Prapass Pulsub/Getty Images)

A Polk County judge has upheld the state’s right to sanction an Iowa doctor who surrendered his Minnesota license while under investigation for substandard care.

In a lawsuit filed late last year, Dr. Dennis Colby, 67, of the Iowa Specialty Clinic in Belmond, Iowa, claimed the Iowa Board of Medicine couldn’t legally penalize him for “the mere surrender of his license to practice medicine in the state of Minnesota.”

The Iowa board argued otherwise, noting that state licensing boards routinely penalize doctors based on disciplinary action taken by other states. Colby countered by arguing that a voluntary decision to give up one’s license, even while under investigation, could not considered discipline.

The case was an important one for the Iowa Board of Medicine since it often imposes discipline based on the actions taken against doctors by other states. In some cases, Iowa-practicing physicians will agree to surrender their licenses in other states simply to bring the out-of-state investigations to a halt while they continue to work in Iowa.

The issues with Colby date back to 2018, when the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice received a complaint that claimed he was prescribing certain medications in a dangerous manner. Court records indicate the primary concerns with Colby were tied to his opioid prescribing habits and his care of seven different patients.

The allegations included overprescribing and failing to monitor prescriptions; failing to order a CT scan, leading to the delayed identification of a large subdural hemorrhage in a patient; clearing a patient for general anesthesia without conducting a cardiovascular risk assessment; failing to follow up with a patient whose medications had been adjusted; and clearing for general anesthesia a patient who did not have his diabetes under control.

In addition, the Minnesota board also expressed concerns over unethical or improper conduct likely to harm the public, failure to properly supervise a physician’s assistant, engaging in conduct that did not meet the minimum standards of practice, improperly managing medical records, engaging in fraudulent billing practices, and improperly prescribing medication.

The Iowa board voted in September 2021 to fine Colby $2,500 and prohibit him from prescribing or administering controlled substances. The board also placed Colby’s license on probation for three years. It was those sanctions that Colby challenged in Polk County District Court.

Ruling in the board’s favor, Polk County District Court Judge Scott Beattie said the case hinged on whether Colby’s surrender of his license while under investigation could be considered discipline.

“Colby argues that it cannot constitute discipline because he agreed to the outcome,” Beattie ruled. “This argument is akin to someone saying that they were not convicted because they pled guilty as opposed to going through a trial. This argument is incorrect.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.