Doctor Denied Medical License Because She Doesn’t Use a Computer
Dr. Anna Konopka of New Hampshire was forced to surrender her medical license because she was unable to use a computer. The 84-year-old doctor turned over her medical license in October, but requested permission later to continue her practice. Judge John Kissinger denied her request.
Konopka built a network of loyal patients in New London, New Hampshire. Many of her patients suffer from complicated conditions, but who are tired of big hospitals and distracted doctors. She typically only charged $50 in cash.
Konopka didn’t have a computer in her office and didn’t want to use one. Instead, Konopka relies on two filing cabinets. New Hampshire medical regulators argue that Konopka’s failure to use a computer violates the state’s mandatory electronic drug monitoring program, a state program designed to combat the opioid epidemic of recent years. The state also alleges that Konopka had been leaving dosing levels to parents and failed to treat a patient with daily inhaled steroids. Konopka claims she never harmed her patient and that the boy’s mother ignored her instructions.
Konopka has asked Judge Kissinger to reverse his ruling. Legally, there aren’t many claims that Konopka can rely on. There might be a couple of federal statutes, but neither are really an appropriate fit:
Konopka’s supporters might think this is age discrimination. Age discrimination occurs if Konopka is 84 years old and her limited understanding of technology is shared by many citizens in their eighties.
Although Konopka is an elderly woman who has limited computer skills, this alone is not evident of age discrimination. There was no mention in the complaints about Konopka’s age. Moreover, if any doctor refused or was unable to use a computer, regardless of his or her age, the state would presumably revoke their license as well. Finally, if Konopka had hired someone to handle computer use, even a relative or a friend’s child, this might be avoidable. There is nothing in these facts that indicate age was an issue.
Medical licensing boards are bound by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If Konopka had a disability, New Hampshire would be required to accommodate the disability.
The problem would be that there isn’t a recognized disability. Disabilities must be mental or physical. Refusing to learn or being unable to use a computer is not a recognized mental or physical disability. However, even if a learning disability that prevents a person from using a computer were a recognized mental disability, there is still no explanation for why Konopka cannot find someone else to assist her.
Konopka’s Solution is in Politics, Not Law
However, the issue isn’t whether Konopka can learn the system that the state has mandated to combat opioids. Konopka herself has said: “Even if I knew how to use it, I would be unwilling. I cannot compromise the patient’s health or life for a system, I refuse to.” Many of her patients, as many as 30, have testified that Konopka spends significant time with them, as much as two hours per appointment. Konopka declines to follow the practice of using electronic records to diagnose patients because she is experienced enough to diagnose a patient just by examining and talking with them.
It seems Konopka’s problem is political rather than legal. New Hampshire recognized a drug problem in their state and took a step to stop it, by requiring all license doctors to use an electronic system to track what kinds of drugs and how much the doctors are prescribing. Dr. Konopka refused to follow the regulations and surrendered her medical license.
As long as New Hampshire has a valid reason to enact their electronic program – drug safety is a valid concern, then the regulation cannot be overturned. If Konopka and other doctors in her position disagree, they should speak with their state representatives to either find a new regulation that they agree with or to create an exception in the regulation.