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Duke: NC Med Board ‘inaccurate’

Duke is disputing a state agency’s characterization of the University’s findings regarding the credentials of Dr. Anil Potti.

The North Carolina Medical Board formally reprimanded the former Duke oncologist late last month for unprofessional conduct. The medical board investigated Potti after learning of allegations that he misrepresented his qualifications and may have committed research misconduct.

In the reprimand, the board wrote that Duke Medical Center, after reviewing Potti’s credentials, had concluded that the errors “were largely the result of carelessness and honest errors with no clear intention to mislead.” This statement prompted the objection from Duke.

Duke’s Associate Counsel Ann Bradley sent a letter of complaint to Medical Board President Dr. Ralph Loomis Monday, refuting the board’s description of Duke’s conclusions following an investigation into Potti’s curriculum vitae and biographical sketch. The letter calls the board’s description “incomplete” and “inaccurate” and refers back to a statement from Provost Peter Lange issued in August 2010 where Lange noted that “issues of substantial concern were identified” regarding Potti’s CV and biographical sketch, adding that investigators later deemed the errors in these documents as “serious concerns.”

“The bottom line is we disagreed with the characterization of the results of Duke’s investigation as portrayed in the consent order that was executed by the North Carolina Medical Board and Dr. Potti,” Bradley said in an interview Tuesday.

Whenever the board receives information regarding a possible misconduct by a physician, it investigates that information, Medical Board Legal Director Thomas Mansfield said. If the medical board determines misconduct occurred and pursues public disciplinary action, the investigation frequently results in a settlement between the board and the physician in question before going to trial. The agreement is then documented in a consent order signed by the physician and the board.

The passage in question—paragraph 10 of the consent order—states, “Duke Medical Center has investigated Dr. Potti’s curriculum vitae and Duke Medical Center biographical sketch concerns and concluded that, while there were some inaccuracies on the biographical sketch and curriculum vitae, they were largely the result of carelessness and honest errors with no clear intention to mislead.”

The wording of the board’s consent order reflects a process of negotiation between the medical board and the physician after the board prepares an initial draft, Mansfield said.

“The physician is always going to be motivated to negotiate language that puts him in the best light possible,” he said. “From the board’s perspective, we are going to rely on information we gathered in our investigation, and we will always try to insist that consent orders will be objective and factual.”

Bradley said she believes that the information about Duke’s investigation included in the consent order came from the research misconduct report—a different investigation from the investigation into Potti’s credentials—regarding Potti’s research methods. This report was completed by a standing committee during the second stage of Duke’s research misconduct investigation. The medical board would not have access to this report unless Potti shared it with them, she added.

“What I believe these comments [in question] were taken from was that initial inquiry report,” Bradley said. “It contained similar language that you could pull out, but nowhere in the inquiry report will you see those words or in that grouping.”

Mansfield confirmed receipt of Bradley’s letter and said the medical board is in contact with Duke’s counsel and Potti’s attorney, James Maxwell, who is also a senior lecturing fellow at the School of Law and Law ’66.

“We are aware of [the letter] and considering [Bradley’s] comments—more communications will occur,” Mansfield said.

Maxwell, a partner in the Durham law firm Maxwell, Freeman and Bowman, P.A., declined to comment.

Mansfield declined to comment on any specific information not included in the public consent order, citing a state statute legally prohibiting the board from such disclosures.

Duke expects the medical board to amend the consent order, Bradley said.

“My understanding in communication with the North Carolina Medical Board and Dr. Potti’s counsel is that they will likely sign an amended consent order that does not mischaracterize Duke University’s investigation,” Bradley said. “That paragraph will be amended or deleted or somehow otherwise addressed... As far as were concerned, that will end it.”

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