Indicted doctor still in practice

Dr. Harold Spear III of the Hanapepe Clinic said he is still practicing medicine and has plans to continue his weekly radio show with Visionary Related Entertainment despite a grand jury indictment last week.

Spear was indicted Thursday on 20 counts of dispensing and distributing controlled substances “not for a legitimate medical purpose” and “outside the usual course of professional practice.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney for Hawai‘i Bill Shipley, who is prosecuting the case, said the charges stem from five patients who reportedly received four prescriptions each.

According to Shipley, it is illegal to issue prescriptions for controlled substances “when (a doctor) is not practicing medicine and is simply giving out medication for money.”

A criminal complaint filed earlier this month alleged that Spear issued prescriptions for Schedule II drugs, or highly addictive substances legal for medical use, to undercover agents in California without meeting them.

Spear was arrested June 1 and subsequently released from jail on a $50,000 signature bond.

He voluntarily surrendered his certificate to prescribe controlled substances as a condition of his release but said yesterday that he continues to write prescriptions for non-controlled substances after consulting patients over the phone.

“I honestly believe that I’ve done nothing wrong,” Spear said.

According to Spear’s attorney, Michael Green, the indictment was expected but the charges are bogus.

“I just have a difficult time as a lawyer seeing anyone charged when there is no legal definition of the crime,” he said.

Green argued that every prescription his client wrote was “for a legitimate medical purpose” — for a patient whom Spear wanted to help.

Spear noted that his treatment of a scratchy throat and dry cough would be the same whether he talked to the patient over the phone or in person. Likewise, he emphasized that treating chronic pain does not necessitate an office visit, as there is no test to confirm the patient’s condition.

Spear said he documents consultations extensively and has spent hours on the phone with patients. And by making himself readily available, he said he is increasing the quality of care provided.

“Access is quality,” Spear said. “Having your doctor know you is quality.”

He acknowledged, though, that he cannot bill his services to insurance providers as an “office visit,” which is why most patients are charged directly for their care.

Categorizing his practice as “telemedicine,” Spear said it is the wave of the future — albeit a “gray area” without standards — as medicine trends toward diagnostic studies.

But whether Spear’s actions fit the definition is unclear.

According to the Association of Telehealth Service Providers’ Web site, www.atsp.org, telemedicine is “the use of electronic communication and information technologies to provide health care when distance separates the medical professional from the patient.”

The association states that telemedicine typically “involves physicians using interactive video and/or store-and-forward consultations to treat patients,” such as sending an x-ray to a specialist for review.

Constance Cabral, executive officer of the Hawai‘i Board of Medical Examiners within the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said that Hawai‘i’s guidelines on doctor-patient relationships dictate that physicians perform face-to-face physical examinations and patient histories.

Cabral said even one exception for a family practice doctor could be investigated by the Regulatory Industry Complaint Office and result in sanctions ranging from fines to revocation of a license.

She confirmed that the office is actively investigating Spear but did not offer further detail.

Spear runs the Hanapepe Clinic, 3897 Hanapepe Road, and Web site www.dialadoc.net. He said business is still busy.

His radio show, “Dial-a-doc,” is picked up Thursdays on KONG AM 570 on-island; it is also broadcast on O‘ahu and Maui by other stations. According to Visionary Related Entertainment President John Detz, there are no plans at this time to cancel the show, which is about five months old.

“It’d be grossly unfair,” he said of acting on allegations.

According to Shipley, Spear will appear in court tomorrow for his initial hearing to state his plea. A trial date will be set within 70 days, though attorneys on both sides said they anticipate the case being postponed.

• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or bjones@kauaipubco.com.

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