University physicians reprimanded by board of medical practice

Two physicians posted Markingson’s medical records.

Kevin Beckman

The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has reprimanded two physicians who posted medical records of a drug trial participant, Dan Markingson, on a public University website.

Dr. Stephen Olson, former head of the University’s psychiatry department, and Dr. Charles Schulz, a psychiatry professor, authorized the University of Minnesota to publish the medical records.

In 2004, Markingson killed himself after participating in an antipsychotic drug study conducted by the two physicians. The suicide prompted a decade of scrutiny into the psychiatry department’s research practices.

Calls for greater transparency in the facts surrounding Markingson’s case led the University to post his records in the spring of 2015. The decision followed a wave of scathing reviews, including an investigation by the Office of the Legislative Auditor that found “serious ethical issues and numerous conflicts of interest” in the drug trial.

In May 2015, a friend of Dan Markingson’s mother filed a complaint with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice against Olson and Schulz for breaching patient confidentiality. The University’s post containing Markingson’s documents was later removed.

Olson and Schulz met with the Board’s Complaint Review Committee in February 2016 and admitted to authorizing the publication of Markingson’s medical information, saying they thought the post was appropriate. According to a reprimand order drafted by the committee, a University attorney suggested Markingson’s information be released.

In the document, the committee said the posting was inappropriate and constituted disciplinary action, though the reprimands do not include suspension or loss of a medical license.

While Olson is still employed by the University, Schulz stepped down last year amid investigations into the Psychiatry Department. He retired at the end of last year.

Angela Nelson, Olson and Szhulz’s attorney, declined to comment on the reprimand.

Niki Gjere, a member of the University’s Institutional Review Board and a nurse at Fairview Health Services, said the reprimand didn’t go far enough to discipline the physicians. 

“It’s just a slap on the wrist,” Gjere said. “It’s not really anything.” 

Gjere also said she was frustrated with what she saw as a double standard represented by the board’s decision to only issue a reprimand. 

“Nurses get fired for posting patient-identifying information online or even looking into the wrong chart,” Gjere said. “Here we have two physicians … and they posted medical history on a public website. It’s just ridiculous, the different standards.” 

In 2014, some bioethicists criticized Olson for disclosing personal information about another research participant, Robert Huber, who claimed he had been coerced into participating in a clinical drug trial.

In a statement to Fox 9, Olson questioned Huber’s ability to remember correctly, saying Huber’s medical record showed “extreme anxiety and paranoia, a history of head injuries and lengthy battle with alcoholism.” 

University attorney Lori Ketola said because Huber signed a release form allowing his medical information to be shared with reporters at Fox 9, Olson was allowed to disclose the information.

“Because the authorization from the patient allowed us to only talk to Fox 9, there was really nothing else we could do to rectify the situation,” Ketola said. “The patient authorized the doctor to talk to Fox 9 and provide records to Fox 9.”