Why Patients May Not Get Whole Truth About Doctors
Dr. Rita Kikkawa
By Jennifer Kraus Consumer Investigator
Just how much do you know about your doctor?
A NewsChannel 5 investigation has found you may not know all you should.
Our investigation started after a Nashville man went to the hospital for a procedure and his doctor left right in the middle of it.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates tracked down where the doctor went, how she was punished for leaving, and, perhaps more importantly, how this information is now being kept from the public.
Lynn Kitchens remembered watching the clock during his procedure,
"I was wide awake during the whole thing," he said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "And you remember everything?"
"Everything!" he responded.
Kitchens was at Nashville General Hospital to have three cysts removed from his kidneys, a procedure where a large needle is used to puncture the cysts and drain the fluid. But, right in the middle of Kitchens' out-patient surgery, his doctor Rita Kikkawa left.
Kitchens recalled, "She pulls the needle out. She says 'I've got to leave, but I'll be back.'"
Dr. Kikkawa told NewsChannel 5 Investigates later, "I can't speak about it."
But her patient shared details with us of the entire incident.
Kitchens said when Dr. Kikkawa said she was leaving, "I thought she meant five minutes, 10 minutes, something like that."
She was gone for an hour and 20 minutes, and Kitchens was left alone in the room wondering what had happened. Finally, he said, the doctor returned.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "She told you she left the hospital?"
"Where did she go?"
"She said, 'I went to a function at my daughter's school.' I've never heard of that."
Kitchens complained to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.
And, at its last meeting, the medical board members weighed in. Dr. Barrett Rosen remarked, "I think leaving the hospital was a major infraction." Dr. Subhi Ali commented, "To me, as a surgeon, that's a huge problem."
Yet, despite their concerns, the board let Dr. Kikkawa keep her medical license and gave her a simple written reprimand -- thanks to a deal worked out ahead of time by her attorney.
The reprimand reads that Dr. Kikkawa "displayed unprofessional conduct when she did not prepare timely documentation following a...procedure." In other words, she didn't update Kitchens' medical chart.
There's no mention anywhere that she ever left the hospital.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe is with the Washington, D.C.-based consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. And he says that, while Dr. Kikkawa shouldn't have left the hospital, the board shouldn't have let her off so easily with a reprimand that doesn't clearly spell out what she did.
Wolfe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "What they're saying is, 'Why should we let people know that she walked out of the operating room?'"
To that, Lynn Kitchens said, "That's ridiculous."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates went back to talk with Kitchens after the board meeting to let him hear what had happened.
He was obviously upset. "They made it all about her. 'We don't want to smack her bottom too hard. How long has she been practicing? Oh, we can't throw that away.'"
Kitchens is also upset that he wasn't at the meeting. That's because the board never notified him about it, yet they invited Dr. Kikkawa and her attorney. What he also finds strange is that the case is not listed anywhere on the board's agenda. It's almost as if it never happened.
Public Citizen's Dr. Wolfe asked, "Why should a doctor because they have a fair amount of money and can hire an attorney be able to come in there and nullify or minimize the amount of harm to the doctor?"
Yet, according to Wolfe, it happens probably more often than you think. His group recently ranked Tennessee in the bottom third of states when it comes to taking serious disciplinary action against doctors.
"The Tennessee medical board is not one of the better medical boards in the country," Wolfe told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
And, he added, the board could do a much better job informing consumers. "They are essentially punishing the patients in the state by not allowing them to find out exactly what happened."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Kitchens, "Is that the whole story?"
"No, ma'am, not even close," Kitchens replied.
And Kitchens believes his story is the one the public needs to know.
He shared, "If this doesn't outrage the entire state of Tennessee and everybody in Nashville, then I don't even know what to say."
When Kitchens filed his complaint with the state, he was told he would be notified if and when the board took any action against Dr. Kikkawa. To this day, he's still not been notified about this disciplinary action.
A spokesperson for the state though now says its employees don't have time to do that kind of thing.
We asked to speak with Dr. Kikkawa after the hearing.
But she turned down our requests for an interview. We also wanted to talk with members of the state medical board. Through a spokeswoman, they refused to speak with us.
As part of the written reprimand, Dr. Kikkawa was also ordered to complete 10 hours of continuing education and pay $1,500 to cover costs.
The medical board was also informed that Dr. Kikkawa was verbally reprimanded by her supervisors at Metro General and Meharry shortly after the incident. But verbal reprimands are not normally made public, and the hospital refused to confirm it.