Washington medical board charges Dr. Ryan Cole with COVID-19 related violations

The board gives Cole until the end of the month to respond

By: - January 18, 2023 2:05 pm
Dr. Ryan Cole on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

In this file photo, Dr. Ryan Cole speaks during a panel discussion titled “COVID 19: A Second Opinion” in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Jan. 24, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The panel featured scientists and doctors who have been criticized for expressing skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines and for promoting the use of unproven medications for treatment of the disease. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Dr. Ryan Cole of Idaho has until Jan. 30 to respond to charges from the Washington Medical Commission that he violated standards related to COVID-19 and patient care.

Cole, a pathologist whose specialty does not involve direct patient-care experience, has maintained that he didn’t violate any standards while treating patients for COVID-19 via telehealth.

The statement of charges from the Washington Medical Commission says otherwise.

The Washington state medical board’s decision to charge Cole follows a lengthy investigation. It opened the investigation in 2021, in response to multiple complaints about Cole’s conduct in public forums about COVID-19; his disproven and unproven claims about the coronavirus vaccine; and his practice of seeing COVID-19 patients through a website that advertised a willingness to prescribe drugs that do not prevent or treat the disease.

“This has been purely Good Samaritan care for patients desperate for help that was not being offered elsewhere,” he wrote in a letter to the Washington Medical Commission last year. “… I provided free medical care out of a real attempt to help those in need.”

The Washington state board’s charging statement — provided to the Idaho Capital Sun on Wednesday — is the culmination of one of two investigations the commission has opened regarding Cole’s license.

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The other case is related to his misdiagnosis of a patient with cancer. In a response to the board in that case, Cole argued that it was not a misdiagnosis but a difference of opinion. That investigation has been forwarded on to the board for possible disciplinary action, according to records obtained by the Sun this month.

The Idaho Board of Medicine has also received complaints about Cole’s practice as a patient care provider and about his public statements regarding COVID-19 treatments, preventions and vaccines. An analysis of documents and dates showed that the Idaho Board of Medicine made the decision not to investigate those complaints before it had reviewed any telehealth patient records.

The Washington board chose to investigate, using patient records and recordings of Cole’s public statements. In its statement of charges, the board said Cole’s public presentations included “numerous false and misleading statements” about:

The board said those statements “were harmful and dangerous to individual patients, generated mistrust in the medical profession and in public health, and had a wide-spread negative impact on the health and well-being of our communities.”

Cole is the only licensed physician on the Central District Health board, which directs Idaho’s largest regional public health department.

The Idaho Capital Sun has contacted Cole, his attorneys and his wife, Kelli Cole, who handles some marketing and business aspects of his laboratory, at least eight times since April 2022. They could not be reached for comment.

Board: Cole didn’t see patients, used text messages, prescribed ivermectin

Cole “also provided negligent care” to four Washington patients, according to the Washington board’s statement of charges. He prescribed drugs “that are not indicated for a COVID-19 infection, failed to properly document adequate justification for the treatment in the medical record, failed to take a history or perform a physical examination, and failed to obtain appropriate informed consent,” it said.

All four patients described in the board’s statement sought care from Cole in June and July 2021.

Cole prescribed ivermectin to the first patient, who had COVID-19. When the patient’s pharmacy wouldn’t fill the prescription as it was written, Cole sent in a lower dose prescription to another pharmacy and told the patient to “take 7 pills today and tomorrow even though the bottle says 4. Day 3 take the rest. Then refill. Take 7 7 6 again,” the board’s statement says, quoting medical records.

To a second patient who did not have COVID-19 at the time, Cole prescribed weekly doses of ivermectin for up to three months. He also recommended daily supplements “and to double her dose of ivermectin if she tested positive for COVID-19,” the board statement said. The patient’s age and obesity level put her at high risk of hospitalization, but Cole did not inform her of that, the statement said.

To a third patient, Cole prescribed ivermectin and recommended an assortment of supplements. The patient did not currently have COVID-19 and told Cole “she had had energy issues since experiencing flu-like symptoms in February 2020 and feeling like she was having a heart attack.” Cole assumed she had long COVID and didn’t ask about her heart symptoms, the statement said. The patient later tried to follow up with Cole but “he never responded,” according to the board’s statement.

To a fourth patient who did have COVID-19, Cole prescribed ivermectin and steroid medications without seeing or examining the patient first, the board document says. But he failed to tell the patient about possible side effects of steroid treatments and “also did not provide timely follow-up care when requested by (the patient),” the board said.

Finally, the board alleges Cole “also provided inadequate opportunity for follow-up care, treated patients beyond his competency level, and did not advise patients about standard treatment guidelines and preventative measures.”

The board’s statement of charges revealed that Cole used a telehealth platform “that relied on instant message chat instead of a phone call or video.” That kind of patient interaction “does not comply with the standard of care for conducting a physical examination of a patient,” the board said.

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Cole has been licensed by the Washington state medical board since 2007.

He is currently licensed by the Idaho Board of Medicine as well as medical boards in several other states. He is the CEO of Cole Diagnostics, a laboratory in Garden City.

During the first two years of the pandemic, Cole Diagnostics received a windfall of COVID-19 testing revenues and pandemic aid, as the Sun has previously reported.

The ability to run COVID-19 tests, alone, doubled the laboratory’s income from Medicaid and Medicare from what it had been in prior years.

Cole’s business also received grants and forgiven loans from state and federal programs that were aimed at helping ease financial hardships and increased burdens on health care providers due to the pandemic.


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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.