Prominent Johns Hopkins physician on leave amid misdiagnosis, bullying claims

A prominent pathologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has been on administrative leave since May amid allegations he pressured other physicians into giving patients second opinions that aligned with diagnoses made by his wife, who is also a pathologist, according to a report from The Washington Post. 

According to the article — which is based on several interviews and a report from The Joint Commission obtained by the Post — an unspecified number of physicians and residents have accused Jonathan Epstein, MD, the hospital's director of surgical pathology, of "intimidation" or "bullying" behavior. Sources familiar with the situation told the news outlet Dr. Epstein pressured other physicians to agree with diagnoses given by his wife, a pathologist who practices at Chesapeake Urology Associates in Beltsville, Md., and that he himself sometimes gave second opinions that agreed with his wife's diagnoses. In one such case, a patient underwent a bladder removal. A post-surgery analysis later indicated a different diagnosis.

Dr. Epstein was reportedly ordered by Hopkins to stop reviewing pathology slides from his wife's practice in March. 

The Joint Commission report was issued in August and directs the hospital to address concerns from physicians and others "regarding a culture of bullying and intimidation in the surgical pathology department." It doesn't name Dr. Epstein or involvement with his wife's work, though sources familiar with the matter told the news outlet his behavior played a role in the concerns raised around "intimidation" and "bullying" and that he is referred to as "a department leader" as a subject of complaints in the report. 

In the report, reviewers state they received "multiple comments by pathology physicians and residents stating they did not feel comfortable speaking up regarding 'intimidation' or 'bullying' behavior by a department leader, indicating they were forced to change diagnoses, issue addendums and defer to the leader's wishes over several years, thereby potentially leading to harm to patients." 

A Johns Hopkins spokesperson told the Post the hospital is working closely with The Joint Commission to address issues raised in the report. 

"Johns Hopkins' Pathology Department is nationally renowned, and we remain confident in the best-in-class services they provide," Liz Vandendriessche said. "In fact several of their citations have already been removed as a result of the information we've provided." 

Dr. Epstein in comments to the Post said he was "profoundly distressed" by allegations in the report, "as they are the antithesis of everything I stand for and have tried to exhibit in my professional life over these 35 years at Johns Hopkins." He said he was unable to discuss the bladder removal case due to patient privacy considerations.

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