Washington medical board investigating Idaho doctor for COVID-19 misinformation

Dr. Ryan Cole is licensed to practice medicine in Washington, Idaho and seven other states

By: - October 19, 2021 4:17 am
Photo of Dr. Ryan Cole speaking at a conference in early October

Dr. Ryan Cole speaks at the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons conference in Pittsburgh early October. (Screengrab from video)

The Washington medical licensing commission has found cause to open an investigation into the conduct of Dr. Ryan Cole, according to a document obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun.

Cole is a pathologist who owns Cole Diagnostics, a laboratory in Garden City.

The Washington Medical Commission sent a letter Oct. 15 to an individual who filed a complaint against Cole. The letter said the commission’s case management team had reviewed the complaint and authorized an investigation.

The complaint alleged that Cole’s medical advice on the treatment of COVID-19 patients fell below the standard of care, according to the complainant.

Cole has prescribed ivermectin to at least one patient in Washington, the Sun reported earlier this year.

The Federation of State Medical Boards in July issued a statement warning physicians that they could be subject to discipline if they spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.

The Washington Medical Commission last month unanimously adopted a position on COVID-19 misinformation, saying it “may discipline practitioners who are found offering treatments and recommendations regarding COVID-19 that fall below standard of care as established by medical experts, federal authorities and legitimate medical research.”

The Idaho Board of Medicine has not taken that position. It did adopt other statements from the federation on COVID-19 medications and masks, earlier in the pandemic.

The Idaho Board of Medicine’s next meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 20, via Zoom.

The agenda says the board will discuss: Idaho’s crisis standards of care declaration, the board’s jurisdiction regarding discipline, and the process of introducing new legislation. The board will not take public comment. Any disciplinary actions it considers will be discussed in executive session where the public will be unable to see or hear the proceedings.

Visit ibom.idaho.gov for a link to the Zoom meeting and a copy of the agenda.

The Washington Medical Commission’s Oct. 15 letter said an investigator will conduct interviews, gather documents such as medical records, and talk with Cole.

“Once the investigator has completed the investigation, they will write an objective report,” the letter said.

After a member of the commission reviews the report, a panel of commissioners made up of physicians, physician assistants and public members will review the investigation and decide whether Cole “met the standard of care,” the letter said.

“Washington law loosely defines the standard of care as exercising the degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonably prudent health care practitioner in a similar situation,” it said.

The letter also explained that Washington’s law “basically states that incompetence, negligence, or malpractice which results in injury to a patient or creates an unreasonable risk of harm to a patient could be considered unprofessional conduct.”

The disciplinary process may take months, according to the commission.

In his application to join the Central District Health board, Cole’s resume said he was licensed in 11 states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The Sun confirmed his licensure in nine of those states. His license in Nevada expired in June, and his license in Oregon lapsed in January 2020. Cole has no disciplinary actions on his record in any of the states.

Cole was first licensed to practice medicine in Washington in 2007.

The Idaho Medical Association recently filed a complaint against Cole with the Idaho Board of Medicine. The IMA alleged that Cole was practicing outside the standard of care for Idaho physicians, pointing to his public statements on prescribing to COVID-19 patients via telehealth platforms.

Cole responded to that complaint in a statement to the Sun that called it “unprofessional” but didn’t address the allegations that his patient care fell short of Idaho’s standard.

“There are many ways to care for patients, and in times of crisis, as we have experienced in the last year, our profession must come together to examine all ways we can provide optimal medical care,” Cole said in the statement. “I am an experienced and educated physician with authority to analyze data and share medical science. … We can do better as a profession than to silence those who have a different perspective.”

Since then, Cole has not responded to questions from the Sun via email, phone and text message.

The anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho has launched an “I Stand With Dr. Ryan Cole!” campaign, urging its followers to send emails in support of Cole.

“SEND AN EMAIL – this bogus complaint is an attempt to weaponize the Idaho Medical Board against our medical professionals,” a Sunday mass email from Health Freedom Idaho said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton was a senior investigative reporter with the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover included health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.