Earlier this month, the N.C. Medical Board suspended the medical license of Henderson County neurosurgeon Michael J. Rosner for three months. The suspension began Feb. 1 and ends May 1, when Rosner will be issued a temporary license good through Sept. 30.
The medical board found that Rosner had diagnosed a patient with a spinal-cord compression and that his diagnosis was “below acceptable and prevailing standards of medical practice in North Carolina, chiefly because this diagnosis was not supported by radiographic evidence.” Rosner operated on the patient’s spinal cord following his diagnosis, and in a hearing before the board, his experts testified that his diagnosis and decision to operate was reasonable.
For the past decade, Rosner’s work has gone in a direction pursued by only a handful of neurosurgeons in the U.S.: cutting away bits of the spine and the back of the skull to treat neurological conditions found in patients often diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Rosner, an expert in trauma neurosurgery before his current work, practices out of a small office in Fletcher next to Park Ridge Hospital, where he has performed his surgeries.
Rosner’s work has made him a lightning rod of controversy. Many patients, who sometimes travel long distances to be treated by him, say that he’s dramatically improved their lives. But a number of others have filed civil lawsuits against him, alleging that he’s performed unnecessary surgeries.
The neurosurgeon has been battling the state board for years. The board summarily suspended Rosner’s license in 2002, a rare action by the board. Rosner wasn’t allowed to reapply for his license for six months, and when he did, his application was denied. He appealed, and following a June 2004 hearing, the medical board reinstated his license, with certain conditions.
In a 2008 Mountain Xpress story, Rosner explained that he has not operated to treat fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, but to correct what he calls a “neurological deficit” in his patients. Rosner says his patients suffer from one of two conditions: a skull that’s too small for the brain, or a compressed spinal column. Sometimes they have both.
In medical terminology, “hypoplastic posterior fossa,” also known as a “Chiari I malformation,” essentially means that the back of the skull and upper spinal column are too small to contain the lower part of the brain and the upper spinal cord. This condition has long been known to cause some neurological difficulties — such as tremors, sleep apnea, headaches and poor coordination —in some sufferers.
He also explained that he began to look at patient X-rays and MRIs in a new light after noticing that people with head injuries often also had spinal cord abnormalities.
Rosner declined to comment on the latest suspension, but Tonya Stanford, Rosner’s office manager, told Xpress that his staff backs him. “We know he’s done nothing wrong. We totally support him,” she said.
In the 2008 interview, Xpress asked Rosner to respond to the medical board’s past assertions that he’s “engaged in unprofessional conduct, including, but not limited to, departure from, or the failure to conform to, the standards of acceptable and prevailing medical practice, or the ethics of the medical profession” as defined by state law.
Rosner’s responsed: “In medieval times, we burned people at the stake for different ideas. Now we simply strip them of their professional reputation.”
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor