Dr Christopher Johnson, left,  found out about the problem via a handwritten note. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead/Photo supplied
Dr Christopher Johnson, left, found out about the problem via a handwritten note. *Photo by Nicola Muirhead/Photo supplied

Dr Christopher Johnson is once again locking horns with the Bermuda Hospitals Board, saying the hospital did not accept or process lab work for his patients for more than a month.

Dr Johnson, who runs a free health clinic for the underserved and criticized the board earlier this year for allowing patients with medical debt to be jailed, believes the move was malicious and linked to his previous criticism of the board. He says the board’s refusal to process the lab work caused many underserved patients who attend his free clinic to “lose faith in the clinic”. His private patients, he said, were “very inconvenienced and disgusted”.

The board denies his assertion the decision was malicious or retaliatory. Through a spokeswoman, the board said the lab work was not processed because of BHB policy. The board has now made an exception to that policy and the hospital is processing patients referred from Dr Johnson for lab work, according to the BHB spokeswoman.

 Earlier this year, BHB chafed at Johnson’s suggestion that they are responsible for those with medical debt becoming enmeshed in legal cases. The board said it is not to blame for such cases.

Dr Johnson also lamented the number of Bermudians who are falling through the country’s health care cracks and not receiving the care they need.

Now, Johnson says their refusal to process lab work from early March to mid-April was a decision made in retaliation for his outspokenness about the problems of medical debt. He said many physicians on the island do not work for the hospital but still have the ability to send patients to have their lab work done there. 

He says he was at first not notified of the hospital’s refusal to process his patients and found out about the problem via a “handwritten note that accompanied some rejected specimens”.

He said the net effect was that many patients lost faith in his free clinic “and just gave up.

“I believe that it was done maliciously,” he said.

Dr Johnson, an American plastic and reconstructive surgeon with a Harvard education, believes “it was retaliatory and that the decision came from very high up to do this”.

He added: “This was most harmful and egregious.”

The board has dismissed those assertions, saying the current policy states a physician must have privileges at the hospital in order to refer a patient for diagnostic tests. Dr Johnson no longer has such privileges, according to the board, thus the lab work was denied.

“This has been an important control system to ensure that diagnostic tests are requested by appropriately qualified and licensed physicians,” said the board through a spokeswoman earlier this week.

The board, after rejecting the lab work, has done an about-face, making an exception to the written policy that would allow Dr Johnson to refer to BHB.

“This is because BHB is already working with the Bermuda Medical Council on a new process that allows any physician in Bermuda with a medical license to refer a patient for diagnostic tests,” said the board through their statement.

The board, which is chaired by Jonathan Brewin, added: “It requires the BMC to be able to provide the appropriate approvals to BHB, but it is a process that, for example, assists visiting specialists and locums who have licences to practise in Bermuda from the BMC but who are not in Bermuda long enough to make it worth their while going through the administrative process of getting privileged at BHB. “

The board still has to formalize the process. Once that happens, BHB will be able to update its policy to allow any Bermuda licensed physician to order tests, even if they aren’t privileged at BHB.

“As we are aware the change will take place in the coming year, it was felt that it would be fair to allow Dr Johnson to benefit from this new process,” said the board through a statement. “A letter was sent to Dr Johnson clarifying the matter.  Dr Johnson is therefore now allowed to refer to BHB.”