Calling him “a menace to society,” the Florida Board of Medicine rejected the Department of Health’s proposed settlement to allow Dr. Ronald Wheeler to continue in practice.
The Sarasota urologist, who specializes in prostate problems and uses unusual diagnostic and treatment methods, should have his medical license suspended for at least a year and be closely monitored for at least five years after that, board members said Friday at a board hearing in Tampa.
“It looks like he’s board-certified in medical fraud,” said Dr. Zach Zachariah, a medical board member. “He’s one of the most dangerous doctors I’ve seen in a long time … He’s a menace to society.”
After rejecting the proposed settlement between Wheeler and DOH, board members unanimously adopted a “counter-offer” calling for an $80,000 fine, a year of suspension followed by an independent evaluation of his practice, at least five years probation with direct supervision, and a reprimand.
After the meeting, Wheeler’s attorney, Paula Willis of Tallahassee, said he is unlikely to accept such a drastic counter-offer. His other option is to go through a formal hearing before an administrative law judge, who would make a recommendation to the board on a penalty after hearing the evidence.
Wheeler, who was profiled in an earlier Health News Florida article, prefers to diagnose prostate cancer through the use of a specialized form of MRI scans, rather than through biopsies.
He says on his website and in a book he wrote that he thinks biopsies are dangerous. The standard biopsy, which involves introduction of several needles into the prostate to capture small amounts of tissue, often miss the target, Wheeler says. Worse, he says, they can spread tumor cells as they are pulled out.
After he diagnoses a case of prostate cancer, Wheeler recommends that patients fly to Cancun, where he meets them and performs a procedure that is not approved in the United States: high-intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU.
In addressing the board in Tampa, Wheeler said other urologists will eventually adopt his methods. He predicted that HIFU, which is legal in Europe, Japan and Canada, will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration within a year.
Answering questions from board members, Wheeler said he has performed HIFU more than 320 times over a period of eight years. His expertise is such that he has been invited to present his findings to other urologists at a meeting in California later this year, he said.
Several board members noted that Wheeler had a financial conflict of interest in that he refers patients to a clinic in which he has a financial interest. The clinic, which charges $32,000 for HIFU, pays Wheeler a consulting fee.
Wheeler was charged by DOH with practicing outside the standard of care in three cases involving patients who came to Sarasota from out of state, attracted through Internet advertising and message boards. He used an MRI to diagnose all of them with prostate cancer, according to DOH records, and recommended they go to Mexico for the HIFU treatment.
Two patients backed out after getting a second opinion. One patient did undergo the treatment, which involves burning prostate tissue through intense sound waves, and had serious complications, the records say.
An attorney for DOH warned the board that the state may not be able to prove that Wheeler was motivated by financial gain. The standard of proof in an administrative-law case is “clear and convincing evidence,” a hurdle that is higher than in civil court.
Dr. Zachariah said that even if Wheeler was motivated by a his beliefs instead of money, he’s still a threat to the public.
The board’s counter-offer will be formally mailed to Wheeler and his attorney, and at that point he will have a week to decide how to proceed.