The Chargers and Dr. Chao

Deadspin's latest excellent long form article concerns the Chargers' highly controversial team physician, Dr. David Chao. According to the piece, Chao has been sued by at least 20 ex-patients since 1998. He lost one suit last summer to a young female who alleged that she had been disfigured in the course of his treatment; Chao was found liable for negligence and fraud in that case.

Doctors do get nuisance lawsuits, so let’s just ignore those niggling negligence and fraud problems, and let’s look at the rest of his dossier:

He’s had two drinking and driving citations. His blood alcohol was 0.11 on at least one of them (2001), and claimed that his ‘Asian genes’ permitted him to be legally drunk on two drinks, taken hours before. He was disqualified for a license to evaluate worker’s compensation claims when he failed to disclose another alcohol related arrest (2006).

He’s been the subject of a DEA investigation. Chao was accused of writing an untenable number of prescriptions in enabling his partner’s addictive narcotics habit. He was also Junior Seau’s drinking buddy at times, as well as Seau’s physician. Junior had prescription medications in his system when he died. Given the facts, it’s impossible for Chao to have any professional distance or perspective.

That’s particularly concerning when you remember that in 2010, Chargers safety Kevin Ellison was found to have 100 painkillers in his vehicle when he was pulled over for speeding in a school zone (SD cut ties with him soon after). There have been other indications in the media that suggest that the Chargers have had a loose policy when it came to handing out prescription medications to players. That’s been a league-wide farce for decades now.

From the Deadspin piece:

A source familiar with the process says that Kris Dielman refused to testify before the panel, because he considers himself and Chao part of the same Chargers family.

Dielman suffered a concussion in a 2011 game against the Jets, but wasn’t removed from the field, despite struggling to even stand. He later had a grand mal seizure on the flight home and will not play pro football again. If Dielman did consider Chao too much of a friend to sue him, then that’s the problem, right there.

As someone who's criticized the league for its incessant foot-dragging in terms of dealing with the realities of the healthcare needs of players, I think this piece demonstrates exactly why I've been so concerned. Dr. Chao isn't just a guy who likes to drink to excess, but one who makes it worse by indulging with some of the players when he's off duty.

The kindest thing I can say is that he lacks judgment.

Chao completely blew the normal standards of procedure for dealing with concussions in Kris Dielman's case, a matter that's been heavily discussed with the league and in the media. He’s also up for having his license pulled by the state medical board when it’s up for renewal, as the article specifies. The attendant documents in the Deadspin article make Chao a poster boy for medical malpractice.

Why haven’t the Chargers done anything about this? Why won't they sever ties with Chao, given his unconscionable professional and personal behavior? Mostly, I suspect, it’s because it would open them to multiple lawsuits (both nuisance and reasonable), and partly because everyone on the team sees him as such a 'nice guy'. The latter is why Dielman won't testify against him, despite the potentially different outcome of Dielman's medical situation.

It's why team doctors need to be overseen by medical professionals, not day-to-day drinking buddies. Chao may be a 'nice guy' on the surface, but by the standards of ethical medical practice, he's unfit to be functioning as the Chargers team physician. Actually, he’s probably unfit to practice anywhere.

Chao has also been sued by four ex-Chargers. His history is truly cringe-worthy. How can he get away with it?

Simply enough: by the Chargers organization being gutless.

Doctors like Chao may give respectable team physicians a bad name, but he's the perfect explanation for why health care professionals on the sidelines need to be paid out of a mutually supported fund that’s paid into by the league and the NFLPA. No team should have this kind of buddy relationship with their team physician - and no player can be assured of proper care as long as he’s there.

It also explains why every team needs an independent neurologist on the sidelines of every game. That would provide a doctor who might have seen some of Chao's actions and reported them. It would also ensure that one would absolutely have handled Dielman's case properly.

I can’t imagine what it will take before the Chargers get a clue.

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