A former patient of a San Luis Obispo County doctor, who is now on probation after a California Medical Board investigation revealed negligent behavior that may have contributed to the death of a patient, wants to know why the doctor is still able to practice.
A KSBY News investigation revealed Dr. Douglas Murphy is just one of about a dozen Central Coast doctors penalized over the past two years for bad behavior.
Deana Clarke, a Morro Bay resident, said she sought Dr. Murphy’s help in 2017 after her daughter’s death and a separate car crash that left her crippled mentally and physically.
“I was entertaining suicidal thoughts in my head and I was in a bad depression state from grieving,” Clarke said.
Clarke said Dr. Murphy told her to resume taking pain medications, which she had stopped taking for fear of drug dependence.
She said she told her doctor she didn’t want the narcotics but he wouldn’t listen.
“He’d cut you off and say ‘wait there, you need this for this.’ He never actually let you finish what you were feeling,” Clarke said.
Clarke’s experience with Dr. Murphy is mirrored in countless scathing online reviews.
According to medical records filed with the state medical board, Dr. Murphy has been on probation not once, but twice over the past decade.
In 2002, Dr. Murphy began counseling an Atascadero teen after a suicide attempt.
The doctor discontinued three out of four of the boy’s prescriptions.
When the boy’s father called in 2003, months into treatment, to report his son’s worsening depression, no new appointments were made and the boy died from suicide.
The boy’s parents declined an on-camera interview but said they have many unanswered questions about the treatment their son received and do not believe Dr. Murphy should be allowed to continue practicing.
At the same time, Dr. Murphy was counseling a woman for depression.
The Board’s investigation revealed Dr. Murphy became infatuated with his patient, buying her gifts, taking her to church and writing her almost daily emails.
That patient ultimately terminated treatment after reporting the doctor kissed her on the cheek during one visit.
Dr. Murphy’s former colleague, Dr. Dugald Chisholm, declined an interview for this story but previously offered his support for Dr. Murphy to the Board.
According to documents in the case, Dr. Chisholm said Dr. Murphy had “made some mistakes” in his treatment of the woman but described her as “extremely difficult to treat” and an “extremely needy woman.”
Dr. Murphy treated a 65-year-old Paso Robles man for work-related anxiety during two separate periods of time, first from 2005 to 2007 then from 2009 to 2013.
The Board’s report shows Dr. Muprhy prescribed the man more than four medications without a documented medical rationale.
In 2013, the man took his own life, telling his wife he felt like he was in the “twilight zone.”
The Board has twice moved to revoke Dr. Murphy’s license but both times suspended the decision provided the doctor complete additional training in medical record keeping, ethics and professional boundaries.
Dr. Murphy’s latest round of training and probation began last month.
In 2017, the California Medical Board received over 10,000 general complaints. Of those complaints, just over 500 rose to the level of an allegation, which resulted in about 50 doctors losing their license.
Patricia Snyder of Atascadero lost her license for allegedly being under the influence of alcohol while working in the ER, according to documents filed with the Board.
Documents filed with the board also show that Gerald Ebner, a former OBGYN in Santa Maria, surrendered his license after allegedly kissing a pregnant woman following her physical exam.
Allen Thomashefsky of Santa Barbara surrendered his license to the Board after it determined he allowed patients to become infected with Hepatitis C due to unsanitary conditions.
Dr. Murphy did not respond to requests for an on-camera interview.
However, in the Board report, he admitted to “unwittingly stepping over a line that is at least controversial.”
His attorney minimized the Board-ordered training, saying all doctors must complete 50 hours of continued medical education each year regardless.
Christine Lally, the Board’s Deputy Director, called the attorney’s characterization incorrect.
“Those two cannot be compared, they’re not the same,” Lally said in a phone interview. “One of the purposes of the disciplinary process is rehabilitation of the physician and protection of the public.”
Anne Robin, a SLO County Patient Advocate, said many instances of poor patient care aren’t even reported.
“A lot of people don’t complain about their provider due to the continued stigma of mental health and addiction and feel they won’t be believed,” Robin said.
Clarke said her experience with Dr. Murphy only worsened her depression.
Though she never got around to filing a formal complaint against him, Clarke believes Dr. Murphy should not have a license.
“He really needs to think about what he does and what he did to people because it’s not ok,” Clarke said.
Advocates say it’s crucial for patients to do their homework on their doctors.
One way to do that is through the first ever consumer protection app, which allows people to track disciplinary action and changes of address for up to 16 doctors. Since its inception last year, the app has been downloaded 8,000 times.