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Dr. Gary M. Weiss, neurologist who practices in Sebastian, under a cloud

Photo: Dr. Gary M. Weiss, neurologist who practices in Sebastian

A locally practicing neurologist said his decision to surrender his medical license in Colorado two years ago was not connected to malpractice lawsuits accusing him of mistakenly diagnosing and treating nearly two dozen patients for multiple sclerosis, even though they did not have the incurable disease.

Dr. Gary M. Weiss, who has offices in Sebastian, Palm Bay, Melbourne and Merritt Island, has said the lawsuits contained "many false allegations" and that he "chose not to renew" his Colorado medical license for health reasons.

Weiss, 62, said he had been diagnosed with a medical condition that doesn't allow him to live at high altitude and limits the type of airplanes on which he can fly. He did not divulge the name of the condition.

That diagnosis, however, along with what Weiss called a "difficult decision" to move back to Florida, where he previously had legal problems, came at about the time he was confronted with a Colorado Medical Board complaint accusing him of providing substandard care that led to a patient’s death.

According to a story published Aug. 27 by the Denver Post, Weiss was charged on March 19, 2014, with "two counts of unprofessional conduct, which encompassed 23 breaches in care," including allegations that he misprescribed two drugs, and gave unqualified interpretations of MRI exams.

The Post reported that Weiss denied providing substandard care to the woman – identified in documents only by her initials, "D.E.," she died in September 2011 – but he voluntarily surrendered his Colorado medical license on Sept. 22, 2014, when he signed a stipulation order with the Colorado board.

"This order and all its terms shall have the same force and effect as an order entered after a formal disciplinary hearing," the Post wrote, quoting the document, signed by Weiss and the chairman of the board's Inquiry Panel.

By signing the stipulation order, Weiss, whose Vail-based practice included eight Colorado clinics, waived his right to a hearing at which he would've been given an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations.

"Rather than contest this complaint, which I knew to be without merit, I chose not to renew my license, since I could not use it, anyway," Weiss said in a lengthy statement emailed to Vero Beach 32963. "I regret that decision today, because of the appearance it caused that I might be conceding the allegations in the complaint. At the time, though, it seemed insignificant."

Now, Weiss is the target of two federal malpractice lawsuits filed Aug. 19 in U.S. District Court in Denver, where two women are accusing him of diagnosing patients with MS, even though they didn't have the disease.

The Post reported that the women, in separate lawsuits, claimed they suffered depression and side effects, including debilitating pain, over a span of several years because of Weiss' substandard care.

In addition, a 2015 lawsuit filed in Summit County District Court by Dr. Mark Pithan, who bought Weiss' Colorado practice for $1.3 million in July 2013, alleges that a large percentage of the doctor's profits were the result of medically unnecessary MRI and EEG tests Weiss prescribed.

The Post quoted the lawsuit, which claims Pithan "discovered through investigation that many of Dr. Weiss' former patients were misdiagnosed and not even afflicted with MS," and that Pithan has "personally overturned approximately 20 patients' diagnoses of MS previously diagnosed by Dr. Weiss."

Pithan contends in his suit that Weiss knew or should've known his patients weren't suffering from MS, the Post reported.

Whether the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the state's licensing of doctors, knows Weiss surrendered his Colorado medical license is unclear.

According to the department's License Verification website, the status of Weiss' license was listed as "clear/active" as of Friday, and there were no reports of disciplinary action against him.

Brad Dalton, the department's deputy press secretary, said state law prevents him from commenting publicly on such matters – was a complaint filed, the nature of the complaint or if a practitioner was under investigation – until 10 days after probable cause is found.

"If the department receives a complaint and it rises to the level of probable cause being found, then I can provide that information," Dalton said. "However, if the department receives a complaint and does not find sufficient information to further investigate ... then the complaint would never be public record."

However, Dalton said Florida doctors who've had action taken on their licenses in other states are required to alert the department. He also said the Federation of State Medical Boards has a national database where states upload any actions taken against practitioners.

According to Dalton, the department usually acts swiftly when licensing action is taken in another state and that, to his knowledge, in every case in which a doctor surrendered his or her license in another state, Florida had taken the same action.

Yet, nearly two years after Weiss surrendered his medical license in Colorado, he maintains a thriving practice in Florida, continuing to diagnose and treat patients, including those with MS.

Weiss, who attended Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and did a residency at the Mayo Clinic, received Florida Medical Association recognition as a "Distinguished Physician" the past four years.

The news accounts of the medical malpractice lawsuits filed against him have "created an erroneous impression of my practice and the reason I did not renew my Colorado medical license," Weiss said, adding that federal privacy laws prohibit him from disclosing information about specific patients.

Generally speaking, though, he said MS is extremely difficult to diagnose.

"Contrary to the implications in the lawsuits, a physician cannot simply examine the results of an MRI or spinal tap and arrive at a definitive conclusion early on," Weiss said in his statement. "It can take more than a year to become confident of an MS diagnosis, and very good doctors can and do reach contrary conclusions.

"For this reason, I have nearly always advised patients whom I believe to have MS to seek a second opinion."

Once he believes a patient has MS, Weiss said he thoroughly explains the risks of the various treatment options and urges immediate action.

"Research has found that 'super-early' treatment of MS symptoms can dramatically improve a patient's chances of controlling the disease for many years and may, in fact, prevent symptoms from occurring," he said, adding, "It is without a doubt the right thing to do, given the state of our knowledge today."

The complaint filed after the patient died in Colorado was not brought by any member of the woman's family, which Weiss said was "strongly supportive of me and my treatment of their loved one."

Weiss said Pithan, who filed a lawsuit alleging he overpaid for Weiss' practice, "was arrested for DUI" and "lost his medical license" because he was found to be "unsafe to practice."

He said Pithan encouraged the lawsuits filed against him.

"For whatever reasons," Weiss said, "Dr. Pithan was unable to maintain what had been a thriving medical practice."