Radiologist’s Bid for U.S. Senate Embroiled in Facebook Flap

A radiologist’s social-media indiscretions may have cost him his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and could land him in hot water with his state’s medical board.

The Topeka Capital-Journal revealed that Milton Wolf, MD, posted de-identified x-rays of wounded and deceased patients paired with darkly humorous comments to his Facebook page prior to launching his campaign to challenge Sen Pat Roberts (R–KS) in the Kansas GOP primary.

When confronted with the posts by a reporter from The Topeka Capital-Journal, Wolf explained that he had written educational software to teach physicians, medical students, and residents about radiology, and defended the posts as educational.

While de-identified medical images may not be a violation of the HIPAA law, the ethical implications of the posts are not sitting well with the medical community. In an article in The Topeka Capital-Journal, Jerry Slaughter, executive director of the Kansas Medical Society, was quoted as saying, “If it's patient information, identifiable in any way, it's inappropriate. Absent any legitimate educational purpose or context, this is not ethical behavior.”

Kansas House Republican and retired physician Barbara Bollier, described the behavior as a potential violation of professional conduct by the radiologist. “I am surprised,” she told the Capital-Journal. “I've never heard of another physician doing this.”

Today, Wolf posted the following comment on his website: "Of the thousands of medical x-ray images I have published, I have taken care to maintain patient privacy. Several years ago I made some comments about a few of these x-ray images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the x-ray images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those x-ray images and comments, again several years ago. For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have is truly sad. However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them."

Wolf has earned a good deal of ink in the local Kansas press—and delighted the state’s tea party contingent—with frequent negative references to President Obama, a distant relative of the radiologist. A member of the 48-radiologists practice, Alliance Radiology, Wolf wrote a 38-page e-book published in 2011 skewering health-care reform: “First, Do No Harm: The President's Cousin Explains Why His Hippocratic Oath Requires Him to Oppose ObamaCare.”

The interview posted on the newspaper’s website serves as a cautionary tale to medical professionals who regularly engage in gallows humor on the job:  The public may appreciate black humor in medical television dramas and situation comedies, but it can be a real liability in a political campaign.