A Vancouver doctor who was ordered to repay $2 million related to medical service over-billings now faces a disciplinary hearing for refusing to answer questions from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.
Nguyen has been summoned to the college discipline committee meeting Feb. 12. The purpose of the hearing is to inquire into his “conduct or fitness to practise medicine in B.C.”
He is charged with failing to respond to multiple communications and correspondence from the college. But when there are serious findings by the Medical Services Commission about irregular, or even fraudulent, billing by doctors, as there was in 2017, the case often ends up back at the college for an investigation into the doctor’s ethical and professional conduct.
Nguyen graduated from the University of Montreal medical school in 2002. He specializes in physical and rehabilitation medicine, otherwise known as physiatry. Such doctors — there are three dozen in B.C. — have a broad range of knowledge about the musculoskeletal, neurological, rheumatological and cardiovascular systems.
Outpatient physiatrists (those working in communities as opposed to in hospitals) would see patients with orthopedic injuries, spine-related pain and dysfunction, occupational injuries and overuse syndromes, and chronic pain, for example.
Kristy Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said Nguyen can’t bill the Medical Services Plan until he is eligible to re-enroll after May 31 of this year. Strangely, Nguyen’s medical receptionist told a reporter over the phone that an appointment could be booked after a doctor’s referral and that he doesn’t charge patients directly; a B.C. Services Card (formerly known as the CareCard) can be used, she said.
Although the government insists that doctors should never bill patients directly for medically necessary services, Nguyen can do so during the temporary de-enrolment.
“During this time, Dr. Nguyen can practise medicine; it is only the college of physicians and surgeons that can remove that right. But he cannot bill to the Medical Services Plan,” Anderson said.
Susan Prins, spokeswoman for the college, said that as a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, “it is reasonable that a major part of his work might be privately funded, independent medical exams, but I can’t confirm that’s the case.”
Neither of the officials could answer why the receptionist told a reporter posing as a prospective patient that a visit would be publicly funded.
It’s unclear if Nguyen has paid back the $2 million he agreed to repay after an audit found a large number of billing irregularities. The government refuses to divulge such information.
“Due to privacy restrictions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the ministry is unable to release any third-party financial information or personal details,” said Anderson.
“If an individual fails to pay an amount assessed by the audit, they are referred to the Ministry of Finance to pursue collection action as outlined in the Financial Administration Act or the governing statutes,” she added.
Last year, the commission issued a report that said an onsite audit found poor documentation of Nguyen’s patient records and “for several patients, there was no evidence that Dr. Nguyen ever provided any care to that patient.”
According to the latest commission report, the government body was able to recover about $8 million in 2017-18 from 18 audited doctors who were deemed to have over-billed in recent years.
There are about 11,000 doctors in B.C.
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