When in doubt, we should not hesitate to ask questions, and if the doctor is evasive in giving answers, we should be extra cautious while dealing with such doctors
In a shocking incident of hypocrisy, cheating and Medicare fraud, a doctor from Detroit, US, has been sentenced to 45 years in jail for intentionally prescribing over 9,000 unnecessary injections and infusions to at least 553 patients over a six-year period as per the report in Newsweek dated 10 July 2015. These treatments amounted to nearly $35 million in insurance billings.
As per the media report, Dr Farid Fata, a 50-year old haematologist-oncologist of Detroit, Michigan pleaded guilty to giving cancer treatments to misdiagnosed patients, telling some that they had a terminal blood cancer called multiple myeloma and giving them unnecessary chemotherapy treatment in order to claim millions in health insurance. The court held that Dr Fata administered stunning doses of the strong and expensive drug ‘Rituximab’ to his patients exposing them to life threatening conditions. Newsweek further reported that the drug, which is usually given up to eight times for aggressive lymphoma was given to one patient 94 times and another 76 and in all Dr Fata gave out over 9,000 unnecessary injections. He kept a tight leash on information by denying patients access to their full medical files—preventing them from being able to effectively seek a second opinion, the report said.
Dr Fata, a naturalized citizen of US, originally a native of Lebanon, was a trusted oncologist in the community. He was trained at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York and founded Michigan Hematology and Oncology Inc, the state's largest private cancer practice at the time of his arrest. This is, therefore, a heinous example of misusing the trust and confidence of the patients by one of the noted medical practitioners, who out of sheer greed and aggrandizement cheated on the innocent patients who suffered incalculable harm physically, emotionally and financially as well.
Dr Fata pleaded guilty to 13 counts of Medicare fraud, one count of conspiracy to receive payments and two counts of money laundering. He was forced to forfeit $17.6 million that he had amassed from Medicare and private insurance companies. Fata reported to have delivered an emotional apology in court as he was sentenced to over four decades in prison.
According to CNN, Dr Fata turned to face those who were at his sentencing and apologised saying: “I have violated the Hippocratic oath and violated the trust of my patients. I do not know how I can heal the wound. I do not know how to express the sorrow and the shame.”
As per the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hippocratic Oath, ethical code attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, adopted as a guide to conduct by the medical profession throughout the ages and still used in the graduation ceremonies of many medical schools. In the oath, the physician pledges to prescribe only beneficial treatments, according to his abilities and judgment; to refrain from causing harm or hurt; and to live an exemplary personal and professional life.
In stark contrast to this ethical code, Dr Feta brazenly and with criminal intent totally abdicated his professional responsibility and practised hypocrisy with monstrous effect on the hapless patients. The Federal prosecutors called the doctor the “most egregious fraudster in the history of this country,” saying that for Dr. Fata “patients were not people. They were profit centres.”
What lessons to learn from this horrid incident?
Though this happened in United States, human nature being what it is, we can learn several lessons from this horrid incident:
- Firstly, it is not desirable to have implicit faith in any one physician, whatever be his qualifications and popularity. When in doubt, we should not hesitate to ask questions, and if the doctor is evasive in giving answers, we should be extra cautious while dealing with such doctors.
- It is always advisable to take a second opinion when the sickness is unusual to ensure that the proposed treatment is on right lines, and decide on the course of treatment based on our own best of judgement in consultation with our family.
- In the words of Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee, “A good doctor is one who knows how to treat patients; a better doctor is one who knows when to interfere in the patients’ problems. But the best doctor is one who knows when NOT to interfere with patients. Patients need the full of empathy of the best doctors.” We should, therefore, try to identify the best doctor of the type described above and go to him, if we are lucky to find one.
However, I must admit that when one is both physically and mentally down with undiagnosed sickness, all these lessons do not hold water, and as it is said ‘experience is the best teacher’ when chips are down.
(The author is a financial analyst, writing for Moneylife under the pen-name ‘Gurpur’.)