December 30, 2008

Doctor charged in ‘telemedicine’ suicide

A doctor who prescribed an antidepressant over the Internet to a student who later killed himself was unconscionably negligent, the boy's father said.

Convicting Dr. Christian Hageseth of Fort Collins, Colo., who goes on trial in Redwood City, Calif., next month on charges of practicing medicine in California without a license, would send a clear message to those individuals who are blindly writing prescriptions to patients they know nothing about, said David McKay, the father of 19-year-old Stanford University student John McKay.

They would have to ask themselves whether quick and easy money is worth the risk of a criminal conviction and permanent loss of their medical license, McKay, a former Stanford professor and now at the University of Colorado, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But Hageseth lawyer Carleton Briggs said California had no legal right to reach across state lines to prosecute practitioners of telemedicine, a rapidly developing source of healthcare.

A lot of medication is prescribed over the Internet, Briggs told the Chronicle. Can California regulate it in this fashion?

Freshman John McKay ordered 90 capsules of fluoxetine hydrochloride, the generic version of Prozac, from a Web site in 2005. Hageseth filled the prescription for the site without contacting McKay.

Experts on both sides of an earlier trial in the case said the drug was not a cause in his death, a suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, a judge ruled.

The real problem is negligence on the part of the physician, David McKay said.