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August 15, 2012 Readers Write 14 Comments

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A Letter from Michael Stearns, MD

8-15-2012 6-22-58 PM

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.

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Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Thanks for the honest discussion. I was a manager at the time that Clarence Thomas was nominated for the Supreme Court and I wondered if I should have a chaperone present whenever I talked to my female direct reports (or any other person, for that matter). It is awkward to be worried about later accusations of inappropriate behavior. Interestingly, just before reading this blog I read one discussing how the media handles these sort of allegations and the challenge of getting fair coverage. See http://www.theagitator.com/2012/08/15/why-the-mainstream-media-never-seems-to-learn-any-lessons-of-history/.

  2. You were screwed. The human nature of compliance is exemplified in your story. There is a movie about this, by the same name, that was recently reviewed in the New York Times. The trait regrettably pervades most in “leadership” positions in the HIT industry and hospital administration. Thank you for sharing. Good luck.

  3. It is sad to hear that you have been through such a horrible incident: and to have to relive this after years of putting it behind you and moving forward…I can only imagine the hurt and anger you feel.
    I have not known you for a longtime, but my many brief interactions with you as a professional, have been quite pleasant.
    I am so sorry that you are going through this, and publicly. But I am a believer that the truth will always surface, and those that have falsely accused you, for whatever reason, will not get away so easily. I wish you all the best and I hope there are many others out there that have the same impression of you, that I do and would support you in all your future endeavors.

  4. I have known Dr. Stearns since 2001. Over the years, we have served together on professional advisory boards, provided educational sessions at various national association conferences and worked together on multiple projects. Dr. Stearns has always maintained a professional demeanor with me and I have also observed him to be the ultimate professional in his interactions with others. He has devoted his career to developing tools for physician practices in an effort to maintain compliance with government and payor guidelines. His termination from eMDs rings with the sound of injustice and makes no sense at all.

  5. Dr. Stearns has contributed much to the healthcare field with his knowledge and expertise. I have been in attendance at several of his presentations. He has always maintained a professional manner with me and others around him. For a company to terminate him in such a manner is not justified.

  6. Dr Winn, Taking down the article does not make a difference. We have all read it and we know what it says.
    This really makes you and your company lose all credibility. It meas you do what you must to save face, regardless of the truth #Just saying#

  7. I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Stearns at the e-mds conference this June. He gave an excellent presentation, was very knowledgeable, and gave his help to our group. Our group had been “live” for a month or so and needed much hand holding. He was very cordial, respectful and professional in all aspects of the conference- classroom and social evenings. If I could return a “product” and get a refund…I would demand it from e-mds. I hate that we are stuck with a company that has no morals, values or even basic elements of due process.

  8. I always appreciate Histalk’s HIT news, but this just seems like he said, she said finger pointing. None of us know what really happened, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and I’m not sure how this really impacts HIT. CEO’s get replaced all the time and we don’t revel in the dirty details.

    Also, I was in the Navy for a long time, and I don’t buy the tailhook references. That feels like an excuse emphasized to cover up. If we’re going to start digging into the details, start including statements from the former patients or the official court record. Once you start accepting Dr. Stearns’ story about interactions with patients years prior to his time at e-MDs, it no longer becomes a HIT story and becomes Dr. Stearns trying to sway an audience with an uncontested story.

  9. James,

    Clarence Thomas was accused of discussing “.. such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes” …graphically describing “his own sexual prowess” and the details of his anatomy.[5] including an instance in which Thomas examined a can of Coke on his desk and asked, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”[5]”

    Four female witnesses waited…to reportedly support Hill’s credibility, but they were not called,…Hill agreed to take a polygraph test. The results supported the veracity of her statements;[16] Thomas declined the test.”

    Do you doubt Ms. HIll’s testimony or is your team so close to the line in similar behavior they might need chaperones?

    “The Tailhook scandal refers to a series of incidents where more than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted at least 83 women and 7 men, or otherwise engaged in “improper and indecent” conduct at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada”

    Dr. Steans – your perpective of who were Tailhook “victims”, the fall out and lessons learned is equally telling and speaks volumes.

  10. It does seem quite unusual for this type of discussion to appear on such a forum. In my view, it’s even more unusual that e-MDs put out that vague statement on Dr. Stearns. Bad move on their part. Vague statements like that from a business make me question their credibility and motive- especially after reading e-MDs findings from their investigation on the Navy dealings. It shows they actually investigated the Navy issue, threatening legal action against anyone casting doubt on their CEO and President.

    Seeing some of the comments on Tailhook, I feel obliged to point out that if people read the article in the Duke Law Review, they would see that it is a given that the behavior of the navy servicemen was completely unacceptable, as was the initial response from the navy. However, the response to the subsequent political backlash was very intense, and many people, as demonstrated in the article, were swept up in that firestorm, many of them not receiving due process. Tailhook actually served to generate tremendous awareness of harassment that has benefitted society. This doesn’t mean that during this highly political process there were those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I commend Dr. Stearns on calling e-MDs out on their unprofessional behavior. I’m seeing lots of smoke and mirrors from e-MDs and their new leadership.

  11. PS I am not presuming Dr. Stearns guilt or innocence. Just making point that there are different perspectives and two or more sides to every story, particularly ones as highly charged and personal as sexual misconduct.

    Agree it appears company handled it poorly. Wonder how many views their PR statement got versus “hits” on the Dr. Stearns HIStalk interview.

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