A doctor living in far eastern Oklahoma was disciplined Thursday for prescribing violations and using Skype to treat patients under his care.
Dr. Thomas Trow, of Park Hill, was using the online service to treat patients with mental health issues. The doctor claimed he thought Skype was a suitable communication system for the practice of telemedicine, records show.
Skype is a relatively new technology that allows users to communicate over the Internet using a webcam, microphone or a text message.
Medical board documents show that Skype is not approved as a telemedicine communication system.
In March, a representative of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority alleged that Trow was “practicing telemedicine via Skype on SoonerCare members and prescribing (controlled dangerous drugs) without ever seeing the patients in person for an initial evaluation,” according to a June 14 complaint filed by a medical board investigator.
The investigator's complaint also showed that one of Trow's patients, identified only as R.C., was treated three times for drug overdoses in less than six months.
Trow was prescribing the patient Xanax and other powerful narcotic drugs at the time of the overdoses.
The patient known as R.C. died while under Trow's care — as did two other patients during the same time — but investigators said Thursday that those deaths were not attributable to Trow.
After board members reviewed his case Thursday afternoon, Trow was placed on probation for two years and ordered to complete a course on prescribing practices.
He will not be able to prescribe dangerous narcotics until the course is complete.
Trow said he began using Skype because of his own failing health. He told investigators he had problems with his back and hip, so “telemedicine appealed to him so he could stay home,” board records show.
At the time he drew the attention of board investigators, Trow worked for Hartsell Psychological Services, which provides mental health services to residents of rural communities in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas.
“He said his (registered nurse) traveled to the various satellite clinics and presented the patients to him via Skype,” a board investigator wrote in the complaint against Trow. “He stated that he did not think he had to see patients in person since they were psychiatric patients.”
The doctor also told investigators that he used Skype to treat some patients “for pain management issues.”
Trow was one of several licensed medical professionals who were disciplined Thursday by the board.