After voting to revoke the license of a Miami physician who falsified records to conceal his misdiagnosis and lack of treatment in a case that led to a patient’s death, the Florida Board of Medicine reversed course and allowed the doctor to continue practicing medicine.
Instead, the board ordered Peter V. Choy, 70, to pay a $30,000 fine, serve a six-month suspension followed by five years of probation, and attend courses on laws and rules, record-keeping and ethics. The board on Friday found him guilty of making fraudulent representations, failing to keep proper medical records, committing medical malpractice and concealing material facts in the 2010 case of a woman with a pancreatic tumor.
Choy had been charged with five counts of professional misconduct by the Florida Department of Health in October 2013 following a three-year investigation initiated by a complaint from the patient’s son.
Choy appeared before the medical board Friday to answer to a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings judge’s recommended order that the board revoke his license and impose a $4,000 fine.
“I made a mistake, and I acknowledge I shouldn’t change those records,’’ Choy said to the board, reading from a statement, “and I ask from my heart for leniency, as I am the sole bread winner for my family.’’
Choy, who told the board he has practiced medicine for 40 years, admitted that he altered the medical records out of “fear of a lawsuit at the end of my career,” and added that, “I still have over 8,000 patients that I have been taking care of in the last few years, and I hope you will continue to allow me taking care of them.’’
But Jacinto Garrido, whose mother Teresita Garrido, 81, had been a patient of Choy’s for 11 years, pleaded with the board not to allow Choy to victimize other seniors.
“I filed a complaint to do the right thing,’’ Garrido told the board, “to stop Dr. Choy from doing the same thing to other innocent, vulnerable, elderly patients and their families.
“Dr. Choy robbed my mother from the opportunity to choose any treatment for the malignant mass in her pancreas because he failed to inform her in 2008,’’ Garrido continued. “She didn’t have a fighting chance for her life when he informed her of the malignant mass two years later in 2010, and she was condemned to a rapid, unexpected death without closure to her family.’’
Teresita Garrido died on Aug. 6, 2010 — two weeks after Choy finally informed her of the large, malignant mass that had first been revealed in a CT scan that Choy ordered in June 2008 after Garrido complained of pain near her abdomen and pelvis.
Garrido continued to see Choy as her primary care provider, and even though she visited his office five times between June 2008 and March 2010, Choy never made note of the tumor in her medical record, and he did not provide her with further evaluation or referral to a specialist, according to the Department of Health’s complaint.
In June 2010, Garrido again visited Choy for a follow-up appointment and complained of abdominal pain and abnormal weight loss, the complaint notes. Choy referred her to a hematologist, though he noted that referral in an addendum five days after her visit.
The hematologist informed Garrido on the same day she visited his office that her lab work suggested chronic liver disease, according to the complaint, and he recommended that Choy perform additional tests.
During a visit with Choy in July 2010, the complaint states, the doctor noted that Garrido had a “possible malignancy,’’ and he ordered another CT scan of her abdomen and pelvis.
The CT scan report was delivered to Choy the day after the procedure, and it indicated that Garrido had “a large mass,” the complaint states.
Three days later, according to the complaint, Choy admitted Garrido to Mercy Hospital in Miami, where tests showed a “metastatic tumor of pancreatic origin.”
The cause of death noted in the complaint: liver disease and acute renal failure.
Meeting in Tampa last week, the Board of Medicine initially voted 5-4 to revoke Choy’s license and fine him $4,000, according to an audio recording and minutes of the meeting.
But after a five-minute recess, Zachariah P. Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale cardiologist and member of the board who initially voted to revoke Choy’s license, moved to reconsider.
The board accepted, and member Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist, moved to impose a reduced penalty because Choy had practiced for 40 years and hadn’t been disciplined before, according to minutes of the meeting. The motion for a reduced penalty passed, 7-2.
Yet Choy has been disciplined in the past for misrepresenting his credentials.
New York's Board of Professional Medical Conduct charged Choy with unprofessional conduct in April 1998 and ordered him to surrender his medical license for intentional deception after Choy submitted applications to health insurers in 1994 and 1995 falsely representing that he was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine when he was not, according to the charging documents.
Choy complied with the New York order and surrendered his license. But he failed to report the incident to the three other states where he also held a medical license: Arizona, Florida and New Jersey, which led to reprimands and fines from those states’ medical boards in 2000 and 2002.
Choy’s Florida medical license now states that he holds no specialty certifications, though a sign outside his office states that he practices internal medicine and cardiology, said Jacinto Garrido, a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Public Health Service who now teaches nursing at Florida Atlantic University.
Choy has an office on the campus of Mercy Hospital and has admitting privileges there, though he is not a staff physician, said Nicole Baxter-Miller, a spokeswoman for Hospital Corporation of America, which owns Mercy Hospital.
According to a statement from Baxter-Miller, “We became aware of the Administrative Law Judge Recommended Order in late April and Dr. Choy has not seen patients at Mercy Hospital since April 24.”
A receptionist who answered the telephone at Choy’s office on Tuesday said he was with patients and could not take a call.
It is unclear when Choy’s six-month suspension will take effect, whether he intends to appeal the Board of Medicine’s disciplinary action or whether the Department of Health will appeal and continue to seek revocation of his license. Any appeal would have to be filed within 30 days of the board’s ruling.
Zachariah, a prominent GOP fundraiser appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, did not return a call for comment.
Following the board’s ruling, Garrido expressed disappointment with Zachariah’s and the board’s reversal.
“This guy flip-flopped,’’ Garrido said of Zachariah. “There’s no integrity. ... The system failed me.’’
A previous version of this article misstated the fine initially recommended for Vincent Choy, and Zachariah P. Zachariah's position on the Board of Medicine.