Doctors Behaving Badly, Part 1: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Colorado

Published on
April 21, 2010

Reading Dr. Michael E. Stoddard's history of infractions, like so many medical board records in Colorado, is a little like reading Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Each disciplinary document focuses on what happened offstage, omitting key details and leaving the real drama, tragedy, or dark comedy to the imagination.

Stoddard was the only MD in the entire state to have his license revoked by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners in the previous year (from April 18, 2009 through April 18, 2010, to be precise). Licensed in Colorado in 1998 (License No. 37479), Stoddard was trained as an orthopedic surgeon but made his living treating pain patients.

He was caught practicing without insurance in 2004. This is all the medical board tells potential patients about Stoddard's lapse: He didn't carry liability insurance between July 2002 and January 2004.

How would a doctor be caught without liability insurance? Presumably by being sued for something, but there is no way to know because those details were kept secret. Stoddard paid a $1,000 fine and stayed in business.

Two years later, in April 2007, Stoddard was in trouble again. This time, the board information was both vaguer and more troubling. The board wrote that it had reviewed information that "raised concerns that [Stoddard] may not be able to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients."

Were Stoddard's present and future patients given any clue as to why Stoddard might be a safety concern? No.

They were told only that Stoddard had to have his license temporarily suspended while he underwent an evaluation by the California Physician Health Program. Whether that evaluation took place and when that suspension period ended remains a mystery.

In October 2007, the behind-the-curtain action grew more dramatic still. Stoddard was found to have "engaged in unprofessional conduct in violation of the Medical Practice Act." What he did exactly is never explained. Again, Stoddard had his license temporarily suspended, making one wonder when the earlier suspension had ended and whether Stoddard had been found safe to practice medicine.

Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Stoddards' patients were left clueless about the machinations that directly affected their fate.

Finally, in May 2008, the Board of Medical Examiners offered a hint of a glimpse of what might be going on. A board document said that the board had reviewed "new information relating to [Stoddard's] prescribing practices" and that Stoddard had continued to practice medicine in violation of his October 2007 suspension.

Now we're getting somewhere!

Oh, no we're not.

The board record goes dark once again and says only that Stoddard's license was suspended effective May 30, 2008.

More questions are raised without answers. Didn't the board already fail to change Stoddard's behavior the last two times it suspended his license? Should patients be worried? Scared? Indignant?

Next week: What happens when a doctor starts pinching from his own pill pile?