Recently, the Florida Board of Medicine revoked the medical license of an “integrative medicine” doctor for his role in the death of a college student from untreated cancer. According to news agencies, there was allegations of bad advice from Dr. Kenneth Woliner of Boca Raton that led to a student’s decision to forgo chemotherapy. Woliner’s attorney’s state that he will seek a court stay of the board’s decision while he appeals it through the court system. Apparently in these types of scenarios, courts usually grant stays. The Woliner case was long and ended in a 5-4 vote from the board. It could serve as a warning to other doctors who have adopted the holistic medicine practice style that they are still required to abide by the state’s quality of care standards. In voting for pulling Woliner’s medical license, the board followed the recommendation of Hearing Officer Mary Li Creasy, who held hearings in February and issued her opinion in late April. Florida Department of Health prosecutors proved by “clear and convincing evidence” that Woliner committed medical malpractice and financially exploited his patient. The board agreed with Creasy about the malpractice but by a one-vote margin disagreed about the exploitation. As Health News Florida reported Florida Atlantic University senior Stephanie Sofronsky died in February 2013 after nearly two years of seeing Woliner. Even though both Moffitt Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic had diagnosed Sofronsky as having stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma, Woliner decided her symptoms were more likely due to allergies, records show. At Thursday’s hearing, Woliner’s lawyers argued that:
- The state’s witnesses weren’t qualified to judge Woliner because they don’t practice “integrative medicine.”
- Part of the evidence against him was attained through an illegal recording by Sofronsky’s mother.
- Stephanie Sofronsky was an adult and solely responsible for “running away” from cancer treatment.
But the board sided with the Florida Department of Health, which argued that Woliner steered the patient away from the treatment she needed in favor of allergy tests and treatments of dubious value.
The underlying case – Stephanie Sofronsky was just 23, and about to graduate from Florida Atlantic University, when she learned she had lymphoma. She had a hard time believing it so she sought a second opinion from Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and a third opinion from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, records show. Moffitt double-checked with the National Cancer Institute. Every health care facility confirmed that Sofronsky had Hodgkin lymphoma. Records show that health care providers believed she had an 80 percent chance of beating it with chemotherapy. But she never got the chemo. At his Holistic Family Medicine center in Boca Raton, Woliner repeatedly analyzed Sofronsky’s blood. He ordered iron shots, herbal supplements, and antibiotics. According to testimony from the patient’s mother, Martha Sofronsky, Woliner said he didn’t think Stephanie had cancer, that it was “low on his list” of possible reasons for her symptoms, according to the hearing officer’s report. She said his case notes indicated Woliner seemed more inclined to think Sofronsky’s symptoms came from allergies to mold and other substances. On Feb. 10, 2013, nearly two years after seeking Woliner’s help, Sofronsky died. An autopsy by a Palm Beach County medical examiner attributed her death to untreated Hodgkin lymphoma (also called Hodgkin’s disease).
And for all of this, state health officials blame Dr. Kenneth Woliner, an integrative medicine specialist in Boca Raton. Woliner knew that Sofronsky had lymphoma and yet took no action to see that she got the chemotherapy that could have saved her life, Hearing Officer Mary Li Creasy wrote. She called his conduct “astounding.” According to Health News Florida, it is very unusual for a single incident of alleged malpractice to end in a revoked license, even if the patient dies. But this incident doesn’t fit the pattern for malpractice complaints, which tend to involve a late diagnosis or an error in treatment. In the Sofronsky case, hearing officer Creasy said, Woliner knew the diagnosis and chose not to believe it, or at least failed to follow up.
Woliner’s attorneys argued that Sofronsky was an adult who chose her course of treatment. They say Woliner wasn’t even her primary care physician.
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Integrative medicine seeks to restore and maintain health and wellness across a person’s lifespan by understanding the patient’s unique set of circumstances and addressing the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect health. Through personalizing care, integrative medicine goes beyond the treatment of symptoms to address all the causes of an illness. In doing so, the patient’s immediate health needs as well as the effects of the long-term and complex interplay between biological, behavioral, psychosocial and environmental influences are taken into account. https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/about/what-is-integrative-medicine/