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HELENA – A Whitefish physician who saw about 150 patients over 14 1/2 hours during a medical marijuana clinic last year will be fined $2,000 for providing substandard care, the first time a doctor in the state has been disciplined in a marijuana case.

The state Board of Medical Examiners’ action follows a stern warning issued by the board to doctors who participate in the “cannabis caravans” that travel around the state registering medical marijuana patients. The board cautioned those doctors not to let their standards of care slip, saying the mass screenings “inherently tend towards inadequate standards of care.”

The physician, Dr. Patricia Cole, of Whitefish, said she never breached the doctor-patient relationship and believes she is being made an example of by the board. She said she is afraid other doctors may be discouraged from prescribing medical marijuana in their own offices because of this.

“Ideally, the recommendations would be done by the patients’ primary care physician. Unfortunately, there are very few physicians who are willing to prescribe (medical marijuana),” she said Tuesday.

The board determined Friday that Cole spent an average of six minutes with each patient during an October 2009 clinic in Great Falls. The board said she did not document whether she took medical histories or physical examinations of patients, she did not discuss proper dosing and she failed to document a risk analysis of medical marijuana for them.

“Dr. Cole’s practice of seeing scores of new patients in one day is below the standard of care particularly given that physicians commonly afford new patients greater time than that allotted for established patients,” the settlement released Tuesday between the board and Cole said.

Under the settlement agreement, Cole will be allowed to continue recommending medical marijuana to patients in her practice but she will be banned from participating in any more medical marijuana conferences. The $2,000 fine will rise to $4,000 if she commits any other violations in the next year.

An order was signed by the board on Tuesday but a clerical error will likely keep it from being filed for a day or two, board attorney Michael Fanning said.

Cole’s attorney, Mark Frisbie, said Cole agreed to the board decision because she did not want to risk a greater punishment by pursuing litigation. But in his opinion, Cole did not breach the bona fide doctor-patient relationship defined by state law.

“There’s no time limit listed in the definition of a doctor-patient relationship,” he said.

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