Controversial Lyme Disease Doctor’s Case Continues

by lmatthews on March 14, 2013

dr jones lyme disease doctors legal case

Dr. Jones featured in the Lyme disease documentary 'Under Our Skin.'

A controversial Lyme disease doctor is at the center of a legal battle that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court in Connecticut this week. Dr. Charles Ray Jones, an eight-four year old practicing in New Haven, was disciplined by the state board for his treatment of two children with Lyme disease but his lawyer argued today that the standard of proof used in this case was too low.

Dr. Jones and Chronic Lyme Disease

In response to the lawyer’s claims, the assistant state attorney general, who was present as the representative for the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, advised that it would be harder to take action against doctors who mistreat patients if the burden of proof became any more significant. In this particularly case, Dr. Jones, who featured in the Lyme disease movie ‘Under Our Skin,’ has substantial support from the Lyme disease community as he is one of the few physicians still practicing that believes Lyme to be a chronic illness requiring long-term antibiotic treatment.

Over-the-Phone Lyme Disease Diagnosis

The trouble started back in 2004, when Dr. Jones diagnosed two children with Lyme disease without ever seeing them, going on to prescribe antibiotics after just a phone conversation with their mother. It was months before he examined either child and so the state medical board felt it necessary to reprimand the physician, fining him $10,000 and putting him on two years’ probation in 2007. The doctor has since become something of a Lyme disease celebrity with patients angry at the seeming failure of many other physicians to diagnose Lyme disease, leaving them suffering for years without a clear diagnosis. Those who are diagnosed are furious when only a short course of antibiotics is prescribed and their symptoms fail to respond.

Standard of Proof too Low

The argument in this particular Lyme disease legal case is not, however, about the actual diagnosis of these children it is about the standards of evidence the Connecticut Medical Board used to indict Dr. Jones. Elliott Pollack, Jones’ lawyer, said that the standard of proof was too low and should be increased, which would create a significant proportional increase in the cost of disciplining physicians and, potentially, lead to fewer reprimands of this nature.


’Clear and Convincing Evidence’

Pollack pointed out that “Society has a huge investment in physicians. We want to be careful before a physician’s license is revoked or a physician is disciplined.” Instead of using a “preponderance of evidence” standard, where only a slim majority of evidence is needed to prove wrongdoing, Pollack suggested that the board use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, the same one used in disciplining lawyers in the state. Pollack cited a Washington State Supreme Court ruling which said that the preponderance of evidence standard was inadequate in doctor disciplinary proceedings but the Connecticut State Supreme Court has previously ruled that the state medical board’s disciplinary process is constitutional.

A Case of Lyme Disease Confusion

The outcome of this case will likely take several months. Meanwhile, Dr. Jones denies any wrongdoing in the case of the Nevada children whose health he says improved with treatment. The Lyme disease doctor claims to have successfully treated over 10,000 children with Lyme disease, a startling number when considering there were only around 2000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the US in 2010 and 2011. Dr. Jones says that one of the three members of the Examining Board sub-panel that reviewed the allegations against him was biased against doctors who believe in chronic Lyme disease, a view held by those who attended this latest round of arguments: “The science is still evolving, but here they are persecuting a doctor,” said Diane Blanchard, co-president of the Stamford-based Lyme Research Alliance and mother to two children treated by Dr. Jones for Lyme disease.

Why Lyme is so Controversial

Confirming a diagnosis of Lyme disease is particularly difficult because of the potential for false results on tests carried out to detect infection. Symptoms of Lyme disease, such as fever, malaise, fatigue, joint aches and pains and neurocognitive issues can all mimic other diseases and health conditions and so physicians are, understandably, wary of applying an incorrect diagnosis too early and failing to find the real cause of a patient’s suffering. The much-maligned (by Lyme disease advocated at least) Infectious Diseases Society of America continues to proclaim that chronic Lyme disease does not exists and long-term antibiotic use does patients more harm than good.

Disciplining Lyme Disease Doctors

This latest Lyme disease legal case could, depending on the outcome, open the door to further disciplinary actions against physicians flouting guidelines and employing unconventional Lyme disease treatments. It could also mean, if the decision goes the other way, that the state becomes less inclined to reprimand and suspend those doctors working outside of mainstream practices, even when real harm is a possibility for patients. Dr. Jones and his Lyme disease patients will be awaiting the verdict with keen interest.

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