Doctors, Disease and Apple Stock

Here are a few thoughts on Steve Jobs and the ensuing medical analysis that followed his recent notification to Apple employees regarding his medical leave of absence. As a fellow doctor monitoring the situation surrounding Mr. Jobs, I find it disturbing that the current media barrage of medical assessments are based solely on his history of cancer and his current physical appearance. It is somewhat disconcerting that not one of the opinions has been based on sound medical findings.

Would it be appropriate to comment and report medical opinions and analysis not based on medical facts, which could potentially invade someone’s privacy and manipulate company stock to the enrichment of others? No. It would not.

Multiple articles recently published in technology magazines and well-respected main stream publications have attempted to shed light on the current diagnosis and potential treatments involving Steve Jobs. 

His recent medical leave of absence announcement came as a surprise to many Apple fans and investors because it was a stark departure to the published open letter released only a week before stating that a “hormonal imbalance” was the cause of his weight loss and such “hormonal imbalance” could be treated easily.

Since the announcement that he would take a five month medical leave of absence and hand over day-to-day operations to Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook, numerous physicians and even technology pundits without any medical training have speculated that Jobs’ specific ailment could be the result of complications from previous cancer treatment or a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.

No one has been able to corroborate their information with undeniable evidence or knowledge of recent and related medical findings because neither Steve nor his doctors have discussed the specifics of the situation.

While analysis of thin or nonexistent facts or, even worse, outright speculation seems to be what gets published these days since concrete facts can be too difficult to obtain and even harder to sell to advertisers and readers, there are two distinct issues that I have a problem with here.

  1. Offering conjecture as a medical professional on someone’s personal medical condition without examining that patient in person can be tantamount to slander or libel.
  2. When the person of interest happens to be in a very powerful, public position as an executive officer of a publicly traded company, stock manipulation becomes a reality. Reporting fabricated or inaccurate information for financial gain constitutes a very serious or even criminal offense worthy of investigation by the SEC.

In light of the fact that significant repercussions to Apple and its investors could occur if the CEO cannot perform his job, it is important that accurate disclosure of serious medical issues be brought to the attention of Apple’s Board.

However, such disclosure should not be accomplished by running unverified and suppositional information. At that point it may as well be published in the gossip column so that readers coming across those stories understand that the information may be a complete fabrication and not take it as gospel.

If physicians offer conjecture on a particular person, they should examine the patient and obtain permission from such person to disclose their medical impressions.

Even if the physician examined the patient and obtained such patient’s permission to disclose the physician’s medical impressions, medical diagnoses in complex cases are not necessarily straightforward and even the most technologically advanced diagnostic procedures cannot accurately predict or identify the root cause of the medical condition being investigated.

As it stands now, the facts are that Mr. Jobs is going to take a five month medical leave of absence, he will retain his CEO position and be involved in “major strategic decisions” while the task of managing the day-to-day operations will fall to Tim Cook, as it did when Mr. Jobs underwent surgery to treat a pancreatic tumor in 2004.

He is expected to return to active duty in June, barring any further complications.

Apple will not fall apart no matter how fickle its investors are or how volatile its stock behaves. It is in a very formidable position with strong leadership, even without Steve Jobs, it has clear momentum of its products and enjoys more than enough funds in its coffers to weather the harsh economy.

Its Board, top level executives and employees will continue to create and deliver superb products to “Wow” its consumers for years to come and leave its competition further behind.

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