A Tennessee doctor faces allegations that he implanted heart stents into patients where they were not medically necessary, mirroring similar charges raised last year against a Maryland doctor who allegedly implanted hundreds of unnecessary stents.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating Dr. Elie Hage Korban, of the Heart and Vascular Center of West Tennessee for performing unneeded cardiac procedures.
The investigation comes after allegations were raised by Dr. Wood Deming of Regional Cardiology Consultants in Jackson as part of a whistleblower lawsuit against Korban and officials at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, Regional Hospital of Jackson and Dr. Joel Perchik of Advanced Radiology in Jackson, all of whom Deming accuses of aiding Korban.
Deming claims Korban conducted unnecessary cardiac tests, performed needless angioplasty and inserted unnecessary stents in patients since 2003. The charges claim by conducting the unnecessary surgeries and procedures, Korban defrauded the government by filing false Medicare reimbursement claims, a violation of federal law.
According to allegations raised by Deming, Korban would order unnecessary tests which would come back negative, but he would falsify records to indicate that they had symptoms that would require coronary stents and other surgeries. He claims administrators turned a blind eye or encouraged Korban’s practices, and alleges that other doctors who spoke up were removed from staff.
The claims were originally filed in 2007, but remained under seal until last month when the DOJ decided to intervene in the case. Under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act, whistleblowers who report a false claim against the government may be entitled to receive a portion of any money that the government recovers from the offenders. In return, the whistleblower must be the first to bring the case to the government’s attention, and must not publicize the claim until the DOJ decides to prosecute the claim.
The case is similar to an ongoing coronary heart stent scandal involving unnecessary procedures at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, which removed Dr. Mark Midei after an investigation revealed that he may have implanted nearly 600 unneeded stents in patients from 2007 through mid-2009. That stent controversy has resulted in a closer scrutiny over stent implant procedures and policies nationwide.
Stents are designed to prop open arteries that are significantly blocked, costing $10,000 or more. Typically it is necessary for there to be at least a 70% artery blockage for a stent implant to be deemed necessary. However, allegations raised over implant procedures at St. Joseph, Westmoreland and other hospitals indicate that some patients are being told they require coronary stent implants for blockages that are much less than 70% and in some cases so small as to be considered insignificant.
A number of individuals who received an unnecessary procedure at the Maryland hospital are pursuing a stent lawsuits against St. Joseph Medical Center. The complaints seek compensation from the hospital for damages associated with the unnecessary medical procedures and for problems associated with having a stent that never should have been implanted.