The Insider has often speculated about the thought process of medical providers, so we are very interested in case of Dr. Patrick Chan, a neurosurgeon working out of Searcy, Arkansas. The Canadian trained doctor has pleaded guilty to charges of demanding and accepting kickbacks from surgical implant maker Blackstone Medical of Springfield MA, a subsidiary of Orthofix International. Dr. Chan used the (expensive) devices in back surgeries. He was a very busy fellow, billing about $200,000 a month. He has amassed a $10 million nest egg (minus the court-assessed penalty of $1.5 million plus substantial legal fees).
The kickback scheme initiated by the doctor raises two compelling issues: one involves how a doctor determines which medical device to use. Dr. Chan reduced that decision tree to its barest branches. "I use the device that pays me the most money."
The second dimension of Dr. Chan's thought process involves utilization: when should a specific device be used? Apparently, Dr. Chan went out of his way to find opportunities to use his preferred surgical implants. His work is being reviewed to determine whether the surgical procedures were in fact needed. One suit, filed in Arizona, alleges that in 2005 Dr. Chan told his patient, a young trucker, that if he did not agree to implantation of a spinal device, he was at risk of becoming a quadriplegic. After the surgery, a worker's compensation evaluation of the MRI done prior to the procedure showed that it was medically unnecessary. [NOTE to insurer: Speed up the utilization review process!]
Breakthroughs, Innovations...and Scams
Blackstone Medical touts itself as the home of "Breakthrough Thinking." Parent company Orthofix is "always innovating." Unfortunately, high level thinking and innovation, along with overly ambitious marketing goals, have led the companies into an ethical morass.
Dr. Chan is currently under house arrest and awaiting sentencing. He faces up to five years in prison. We can assume that he is under considerable pressure to testify against his former suppliers. It's ironic, of course, that Dr. Chan and the people at Blackstone began with the same goal in mind: helping people in pain. They intended no harm, but, alas, much harm has apparently been done.
Thanks to fellow blogger Joe Paduda at Managed Care Matters for the heads up on this interesting story.