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KY doctor allegedly put veterans ‘in harm’s way’ with fake blood pressure results

Check your blood pressure at least yearly to help prevent hypertension. A normal blood pressure is considered below 120/80. Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure reaches 140/90. Pressures in between these two numbers are considered pre-hypertension. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Josie Walck)

A Kentucky doctor accused of falsely recording blood pressure readings of military veterans has been fined $5,000 and had his license placed on probation for five years.

Federal investigators concluded that Dr. John M. Bennett, of Berea, most likely put down false, normal blood-pressure readings in an effort to avoid more work, since normal readings would not require further medical intervention or documentation, the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure said in an order.

Officials with the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center said Bennett’s conduct “placed veterans in harm’s way,” the board said.

The board released an order Tuesday with the terms of an agreement with Bennett. In addition to the fine and probation, Bennett must complete additional training.

The agreement was in lieu of an emergency suspension of Bennett’s right to practice in Kentucky, according to the order.

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Bennett worked in Berea at an outpatient clinic of the Lexington VA Medical Center.

In late 2017, several employees reported that Bennett was putting down the same blood pressure of 128/78 for multiple patients. That is a normal blood pressure.

The VA looked into the claims and found that Bennett listed that blood pressure for 83 percent of the patients he saw in a six-month period in 2017, according to the state order.

Readings from other health providers showed more deviation in blood-pressure among patients, according to the state board’s order.

The VA suspended Bennett from practicing and followed up in 2018 with an inspection of more than 5,000 of Bennett’s encounters with patients.

Investigators identified 1,370 encounters in which veterans faced a greater risk of problems, including death, if their blood pressure wasn’t properly controlled.

In 1,364 of those cases, Bennett said the patients’ blood pressure was 128/78, according to the state order.

The review showed that in treating 64 high-risk patients, Bennett rarely changed their medication even when it would have been appropriate; was inconsistent in ordering tests to make sure the medicine vets were getting wasn’t causing organ damage; and routinely scheduled patients to come back in nine months regardless of their condition and how well their blood pressure was controlled.

Bennett told VA investigators he ordered blood pressure cuffs for veterans to use at home, but investigators found no evidence of that.

Bennett provided several reasons for listing the same blood pressure for many different patients, but investigators did not find the explanations plausible, the state order said.

Instead, the VA concluded Bennett conduct was “most likely an effort to reduce workload.”

In July 2018, the VA revoked Bennett’s practice privileges, saying his performance was so out of line with accepted practices that it raised a concern about patient safety.

“Physicians are in positions of trust and held to high standards. You have violated your patients’ and colleagues’ trust as well as failed to meet the standards entrusted to us as physicians,” the VA told Bennett, according to the state order.

The state agency used the federal findings in taking action against Bennett.

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© 2019 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.