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A Letter from Michael Stearns, MD
As many of you know, I was until recently the president and CEO of e-MDs, Inc. an ambulatory EHR vendor. I joined e-MDs in 2006 as their CMO and was promoted to president and then president and CEO in 2007 and 2008. Through 2011, my tenure at e-MDs was marked by significant increases in revenue.
On July 2, 2012, I was abruptly removed from my position with e-MDs for reasons undisclosed, other than a vague inference to company policy violations. e-MDs has refused several requests to disclose the details of these alleged infractions or the names of those involved, making it impossible to respond or to provide essential information that would allow me to clear my name.
Unfortunately, e-MDs took the unusual step of publishing a press release that contained information based on false allegations that have not been subject to basic tenets of due process. The rationale for taking such action is difficult to discern. Regardless, I will be relentless in my pursuit of the facts. I remain confident that information will eventually emerge that will exonerate me completely.
Due to a very unfortunate situation that occurred while I was a Navy medical officer roughly two decades ago, I have learned to be particularly sensitive to my conduct in the workplace. In summary, I found myself caught up in the fallout from the Tailhook scandal of 1991 that resulted in hundreds of naval officers having their careers damaged or destroyed, as detailed in this Duke Law Journal article.
Staffing shortages in the Navy resulted in a lack of available female chaperones, and female patients made a number of complaints. One of my patients, a female seeking disability for unexplained loss of genito-rectal sensation, bladder dysfunction, and lower extremity weakness, complained that my examinations had been overly detailed on two separate occasions. An investigation of my conduct with female patients over a four-year period led to two other complaints emerging, but the overwhelming majority of patients reported that I was “one of the most caring and thorough physicians they had ever known.”
During the investigation, a number of facts emerged that shed doubt on the validity of the claims made by these individuals. Given the post-Tailhook atmosphere, there was a great deal of pressure on the commanding officer not to demonstrate leniency in any matter of this nature. I was given the option of either fighting the allegations in court or submitting my resignation in lieu of charges. However, under a subsequent threat of media attention, they reneged on the resignation offer and filed indecent assault changes.
My military counsel, after a cursory fact-finding effort, informed me that given the hysterical climate created by Tailhook — regardless of my guilt or innocence — I would be found guilty and could spend up to 15 years in prison. I was told my only realistic option was to accept a time-sensitive plea offer that reduced the charges to the misdemeanor equivalents of simple assault and battery. In return, I would also be found formally not guilty of the indecent assault charges, including any reference to inappropriate sexual touching. I was also informed by my attorney that the plea bargain would not result in a loss of my medical license, based on direct communication she had with the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance (MBPQA).
A MBPQA review body recommended that my license be suspended for six months and the suspension stayed. However, after a protracted and acrimonious process, the MBPQA removed my license to practice medicine for a minimum of one year. Perhaps most disappointing to me, especially in light of the fallout from the Tailhook scandal, was that, despite my pleadings, the MBPQA did not perform an independent investigation that would have revealed a number of exculpatory findings of fact. Making matters worse, the published MBPQA order contains false information that has never been corrected. I was found formally not guilty of indecent assault and all language to that effect was removed from the guilty pleas. Despite this, the MBPQA order states that my guilty pleas arose from inappropriate sexual touching, something for which I was actually found innocent.
My former employer, to their credit, conducted their own independent investigation in 2010 to address the facts surrounding the MBPQA orders. e-MDs went so far as to speak with a physician who served alongside me in the Navy and who corroborated the information I provided to them. They concluded that the process had been unfair and biased and published their findings on their website for over a year. HIStalk republished their findings in this article.
Due to the age of information and easy availability of this erroneous MBPQA order, a number of individuals have drawn incorrect conclusions regarding the facts and actual findings of law based on the MBPQA orders. I appreciate HIStalk giving me the opportunity to address this in a public forum and I am hopeful that the MBPQA successor, the Maryland Medical Board, will correct the errors in these documents.
While always conducting myself in a respectful way, I have learned to be cautious and somewhat guarded in my professional interactions over the 18 years that have passed since this situation arose. Thus, I was stunned to hear of the vague allegations brought forth by e-MDs.
During my leadership, e-MDs was increasingly seen as a company willing to contribute substantially to core informatics efforts driving advances in healthcare and clinical research. In addition to running a company that saw a roughly 15-20% annual increase in revenue during my tenure, I represented e-MDs on multiple boards and played a direct role in informatics, policy, standards, interoperability, genomics, coding, patient safety, patient privacy, compliance, and educational efforts related to HIT initiatives; gave over 100 educations presentations; provided five testimonies to various work groups of the ONC; and was invited to a private White House town hall meeting on HIT in June of this year.
It is disheartening to believe that a company to which I dedicated more than five years to would publish something so vague as to invite innuendo and speculation. The unusual step e-MDs took in publishing conclusions based on a hastily conducted and inexplicably incomplete fact-finding process was highly unfortunate and damaging to my reputation. Knowing that inaction in the face of defamation can cause long-term damage, I have no other choice than to provide corrections through public forums while I work diligently to clear my name.
Michael Stearns, MD.
Response from e-MDs
e-MDs, Inc. removed all the material and information that comprised the web posting “The Truth About Michael Q. Stearns” that had been posted in March of 2010, and this removal occurred immediately following the action taken on July 2, 2012 by e-MDs that completely terminated its affiliation with Michael Q. Stearns.
Both e-MDs, Inc., and Dr. David Winn, each formally retract that entire prior posting statement and want to be very clear that statement should not be relied upon as the current position of e-MDs, Inc. or of Dr. David Winn.