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Posts Tagged ‘fraudulent doctors’

Another case of sketchy plastic surgery reported – this time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.   Yet again, I would like to caution readers about seeking ‘cheap’ plastic surgery on the internet.  (I’m not saying don’t look – please do!  But look smartly.)  This doesn’t only apply to plastic surgeons, but to all surgeons, physicians, and healthcare professionals.

‘The internet’ is not all the same – the grade of information can vary widely from scientific journals (highly reputable/ reliable) to fiery but heavily opinionated blogs (unreliable/ unscientific) to frankly fraudulent such as in this instance (in the story above).  People need to use caution, due diligence and common sense when researching anything, but particularly medical information on the internet.  You need to do your homework.

There are a few things to consider when researching medical information/ providers on the internet.

1.  Is the information independently verifiable?  (and by what sources?) 

As a medical writer – this is a huge portion of my job – verifying the information obtained during interviews, etc.  But when you are looking to purchase goods or services – you need to do a little investigative work yourself.  Luckily, once again – the internet makes this simple.

The first thing you should investigate is – the person making the claims/ and what their focus is.  Use this website for an example, if you like.  So take the following information (below) – that is easily available on the site..

(If this information isn’t readily available on the site – that should make you suspicious.  “Anonymous” blogs or hidden author websites are NOT reputable.  People with valid, truthful information have nothing to hide, and are not ashamed to stand by their work/ writings.)

so you’ve gathered the following information  from the site:

Author – XXXX   credentials claimed/ authority source:  Physician (MD/ DO etc.)

Product or service advertised on the site:  surgical procedure XX

Use this information to answer the following questions:

1. Who is this person?

2. How do they know this/ what special knowledge do they possess?  (for example – a hairdresser shouldn’t be giving medication advice)

3.  Can I verify this?

– Medical personnel can be verified thru state licensing boards. 

Some states make this easier than others, but ALL states have this information available to consumers.  So go to the website of the licensing board (medical board for doctors, nursing board for nurses) and look the person up.

In this example, I am currently licensed in several states – so pick one, and do an internet search for the board of nursing for that state.  (Tennessee is particularly easy since they post educational information, license violations etc. on-line).  If this licensing information isn’t easy to find on the website, call the board.**

If the website (ie. plastic surgery clinic) lists an address – use that state for your search.

In another example – as seen below – we’ve looked up a surgeon at the Colorado Medical Board.

Looking up a medical license

Looking up a medical license

– All physicians should be licensed in the state of practice (where their clinic is.)  If they aren’t licensed in that state – STOP and find another provider.  Even if the doctor claims to be from another country, he or she is STILL required to have an active license in the state they are working in.**

Here is an example of physicians sanctioned by the Texas medical board (all of this information is freely available on the internet for your safety.)


Here is another example of a surgeon with multiple medical board actions against her.

licence details

license details

Many of the state medical boards will let you read the complaints, actions and disciplinary measures against physicians licensed in that state.  However, some states allow physicians under investigation to ‘surrender’ or inactive their license to avoid having disciplinary measures recorded.

– All surgeons, or specialty doctors should also be listed with specialty boards – such as the American College of Surgeons, or the American Society of Plastic Surgery(While membership is not mandatory, the vast majority of specialty trained surgeons maintain memberships in their specialty organizations.)  Other things to consider while investigating credentials:

Do the credentials match the procedure?  (Is this the right kind of doctor for this procedure?)

These credentials should match the procedure or treatment you are looking for: such as Plastic surgeons advertising breast augmentation.

This may sound obvious but it isn’t always the case.  (for example:  dermatologists shouldn’t be doing eyelid lifts or plastic surgery, primary care physicians shouldn’t be giving Botox injections, general surgeons shouldn’t be performing lung surgery etc.)
If you aren’t sure what procedures the doctor should be performing, look at the specialty surgery board – it should list the procedure.  i.e plastic surgery and liposuction.

4.  After verifying this information, it is time to do a basic internet search on the individual.  To do this – perform both a Yahoo! and Google search.   This should give you at minimum, 10 to 15 results.

These results should include several non-circular results.  “Circular results” are results that return you to the original website, or affiliated websites.   For example: Using the information from above – both Google and Yahoo! return several results that link directly to this website.  These results also return links for the sister sites.  All these of these are circular results – that return you to the starting point without providing any additional outside information.

However, if you scroll down the results:  outside links should appear.  These should include articles/ publications or scholarly work.  Other search results may include more personal information, social networking sites and other newsworthy articles.  This gives you a more comprehensive picture of the provider.

One of the things we should mention, is patient testimonials.  While many providers include extensive patient testimonials, I disregard these for several reasons:

– There is usually not enough information to verify the authenticity of these patient claims.  “I love my doctor. He’s a great surgeon.” – Gina S.  doesn’t really tell you anything.  In particular, there is no way to verify if there really is a Gina S. or if she is a fictitious creation of the website author.  (There have been several cases where people working for the doctors have created ficticious accounts including before and after photos talking about procedures that they never had).  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security with patient testimonials.

– Some people use blogs, or message boards for the same purpose, and the same caveats apply.

– Another reason that patient testimonials are not useful in my opinion, is that patients (and their families) are only able to provide subjective information.  Several of the cases in the news recently (of fraudulent individuals posing as doctors) had several “happy patients’ to recommend them.  Patients, for the most part – aren’t awake and able to judge whether the surgery proceeded in a safe, appropriate fashion.  The testimonials are merely a comment on the physician’s charisma, which may give future patients a false sense of security.

I’ve finished my search – Now what?

   Use commonsense:

– Surgical treatments should be performed in an appropriate, sterile environment like a hospital or freestanding clinic.  A reputable surgeon does not operate in the back of a motor home, a motel room or an apartment.  (All of these have been reported in the media.)  If the setting doesn’t seem right – leave.  You can also investigate the clinic.

– Bring a friend.  In fact, most surgeons will require this, if you are having liposuction or another large procedure.  Doctors don’t usually drive their patients around (as was done in several recent cases.)  The exception to this rule is medical tourism packages.  These packages often include limousine transportation services but these services are provided by a professional driver (not the doctor, or ‘his cousin’).  Your friend/ companion is not just your driver – they are also there to help feel out the situation.  If something seems amiss – do not proceed.

– if the price is too cheap – be suspicious.  If every other provider in the same location charges a thousand dollars – why is this doctor only charging a hundred dollars? Chances are, it’s not a sale – and he/ she is not a doctor.

– Use reputable sources to find providers – Craigslist is not an appropriate referral source.

– Are the claims over-the-top?  Is the provider claiming better outcomes, faster healing or an ‘easier fix’ than the competition? (We will talk more about this in a future post on  “miracle cures’ and how to evaluate these claims.

I hope these hints provide you with a good start to your search for a qualified, safe, legitimate provider.  The majority of health care providers are excellent, however the internet has given criminals and frauds with an easy avenue to lure/ and trap unsuspecting consumers.

** The majority of cases that have been recently reported have taken place in the United States (Nevada, New Jersey, Florida and South Carolina.)  Many of the people perpetrating these crimes have posed as Latin American surgeons to capitalize on the international reputation of plastic surgeons from South America.  They also used these claims to try and explain away the lack of credentials.  A legitimate doctor from Brazil,  Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica or another country, who is practicing in the United States WILL HAVE an American license.

Additional references/ stories on fraudulent surgeons.

(Hopefully this section will not continue to grow)

More on the Myrtle Beach story

Myrtle Beach – a nice article explaining why people should see specialty surgeons

Basement surgery

Article on unlicensed clinics in Asia (medical tourists beware!)

A truly bizarre story about unlicensed dentistry in Oregon

Additional references:

American College of Surgeons – lists doctors distinguished/ recognized as “fellows” in the academic organization, and provides a brief summary of specialties.

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This article happens to be about two Colombians posing as plastic surgeons – but it could have been people from anywhere, and these frauds were operating on unsuspecting people in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  These criminals were trading on the reputations of the very doctors I interview day in and day out – surgeons with excellent educational background, training, surgical performance and reputations. The difference is the surgeons I interview have verifiable credentials, legitimate medical licenses, and practice in accordance to international standards. How do I know – because I check it all out myself. To bring to you.

This highlights why I consider my book to be so important – to protect people by scrutinizing surgeons, interviewing them personally and following them to the operating room.  This woman died – and that’s a horrible price to pay for wanting to look better.

Article by Paul Harasim of the Las Vegas Review Journal

Lupe Negrete, right, and her mother, Guadalupe Delgado, talk Wednesday about how they fell victim to Colombians posing as doctors in Las Vegas. Delgado says parts of her legs turned black after she got treatment of minor spider veins.

By Paul Harasim
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Posted: May 8, 2011 | 2:09 a.m.
Updated: May 8, 2011 | 8:36 a.m.

Guadalupe Delgado felt sick to her stomach when she saw the newspaper photos of the two Colombians charged with the murder of a Las Vegas woman as a result of a botched buttocks enhancement.

When the story recounted how Elana Caro died April 9 after receiving injections of an unknown substance from a couple posing as medical practitioners, Delgado almost became paralyzed by fear.

“What could they have put in me?” she asked her daughter, Lupe Negrete. “This is why my legs hurt so much now.”

Early evening sunlight sliced through Delgado’s Spring Valley home Wednesday as she and her daughter recounted their association with the two Colombians.

Ruben Dario Matallana-Galvas, 55, and his wife, Carmen Olfidia Torres-Sanchez, 47, are being held at the Clark County Detention Center without bail because they are a flight risk and a threat to the community.

Las Vegas police arrested the couple at McCarran International Airport the day after Caro died as they tried to flee the country, attempting to change tickets that had been purchased for an April 22 return to Colombia.

A preliminary hearing on their murder charges is set for May 17 in Las Vegas Justice Court.

The 49-year-old Delgado, a casino porter who either speaks in halting English or has her daughter translate for her, showed how portions of her lower legs have turned black since she went to the Colombians for treatment of minor spider veins.

“Before, she just had a couple light blue veins that she wanted gone and her legs did not hurt at all,” Negrete said, holding her 3-year-old daughter, Lilian. “She was doing it purely for cosmetic reasons, to look nice. But now she has big black spots, and she’s in pain a lot when she walks.”

‘WORD OF MOUTH’

It was the summer of 2009 when Delgado learned about the couple from Colombia who friends said could perform a variety of cosmetic medical procedures safely and cheaply.

“The word of mouth was all good,” Negrete said. “My mother trusted what her friends said.”

Delgado and her daughter met the Colombians at a two-story house near Interstate 215 and Blue Diamond Road.

“They did their work in one bedroom upstairs,” Negrete recalled. “It had a lot of equipment in it, but it seemed clean. They always wore medical clothes.”

What she described is a far cry from a small office of the floor-tile business, Tiles N More, at 3310 E. Charleston Blvd., where the backroom procedure was performed on 42-year-old Caro.

Delgado and Negrete pointed out that the Colombians said they performed plastic surgery in Colombia. They said that impressed them because they had heard that Colombian plastic surgeons had a sterling reputation.

What they heard had been very well-publicized by the media. Even USA Today trumpeted in 2006 that “Tourists were headed to Colombia for plastic surgery, ” with about 3 percent of 1 million travelers coming for medical treatment.

A Florida woman, the paper reported, lost 56 pounds to liposuction, added to her chest and got her nose fixed, all for $8,000 in Colombia. That same surgery would have cost between $25,000 and $30,000 in the United States.

“Add the quality reputation of Colombian medicine to the savings and you’ve got a good product to promote,” the paper reported travel agents and Colombian doctors as saying.

Negrete said that in the Hispanic community Colombian women are renowned for their beauty. While part of it is natural, she said Hispanic publications often report that Colombian women favor plastic surgery to enhance their figures.

“We thought that what Colombia women were getting we could get,” said Negrete, who at one point said she considered getting a breast augmentation. “We like to look nice.”

Matallana-Galvas, who Delgado said performed medical procedures with his wife’s assistance, is not listed as a member of the Colombian Society of Plastic Surgery, nor is he listed as a member of Colombia’s Society of Surgeons.

Medical authorities in Colombia advise people who want to have plastic surgery there to check if the practitioner is part of the Colombian Society of Plastic Surgery.

Las Vegas police said Matallana-Galvas, who is not licensed in Nevada for any medical practice, told them he practiced homeopathic, or alternative, medicine in Colombia. Homeopathic remedies are based on a natural medical science that supposedly works with an individual’s body to stimulate the immune system.

Marc DiGiacomo, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said at this point it does not appear that Matallana-Galvas attended a medical school that leads to licensing as a medical doctor in the South American country.

Scott Coffee, the public defender representing Matallana-Galvas, said his client is devastated by what happened to Caro.

“Anybody portraying him as a guy with a knife that didn’t care about his patients doesn’t know the case,” Coffee said.

Though Coffee said he doesn’t know if his client was licensed to practice surgery in Colombia, he said his client does have “a lot of certificates” showing he had training in homeopathic medicine in South America.

EIGHT INJECTIONS

The more Delgado thinks about what happened to Caro, the more terrified she becomes.

“I am scared,” she said as she rubbed her discolored calves. “I have to go to a specialist to see what he put in me. I hope it can’t do anything more (to me).”

Delgado said she received eight injections from Matallana-Galvas over a few weeks in 2009, at a total cost of $2,400, at the two-story suburban house. Four injections were for fat bulges in her upper torso, and the other four were supposed to rid her of spider veins.

In April, Las Vegas plastic surgeon Julio Garcia talked to the Review-Journal about cosmetic injection procedures that had gone bad. He said that eight years ago he had to do six surgeries on a woman who had been injected with floor wax.

“You never know what these guys are putting in you, and the women generally never look as good afterward,” Garcia said. “And sometimes, as we know, it can be deadly.”

The Clark County coroner has not yet reported what was injected into Caro.

Dr. Samir Pancholi, a Las Vegas plastic surgeon, said injections by someone who is not medically trained is dangerous.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing with injections, you can easily go straight into a blood vessel, and whatever you’re injecting will go to the heart and lungs and kill you.”

Delgado said the Colombians kept trying to get her to have a buttocks enhancement, but she found the $3,000 price tag too steep. “They said it was what they were really good at.”

Many American plastic surgeons charge up to $18,000 for a butt lift.

ONE-WEEK MASSAGE COURSE

Delgado was so impressed with the professionalism of the Colombians — “they talked like they really knew what they were doing” — that she had her daughter take a massage course that they offered.

“It cost me $500 for a week of massage courses that are supposed to remove fat from people,” Negrete said. “I thought it would be great if I could be trained for a job in a week.”

When she went to a salon looking for a job, however, she found that the certificate signed by both Colombians was worthless.

“They said I needed to be licensed in Nevada to do that kind of work,” she said.

About the time that her daughter found out that her certificate of course completion wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, Delgado realized that none of the injections she received worked as she was told they would. Though the fat injection marks went away, the fat was still there. And her legs started having patches of black and they started to burn and throb.

Both women were going to complain to the foreign couple when they learned that they had returned to Colombia.

“We thought about going to the police, but they had gone back to Colombia and we didn’t think it would do any good,” Negrete said.

Las Vegas police officer Laura Meltzer said a number of former patients of the Colombians have complained to police about what happened to them. “So far, what they’ve reported hasn’t been too serious.”

Delgado said she didn’t go to a doctor immediately after her legs started hurting, because she hoped they would get better on their own. While she was upset that the treatment didn’t work, she never believed that she could have been injected with something dangerous, “something that could still hurt me.”

“They seemed like nice people,” she said.

The next time Negrete saw the couple was at the Miami airport just last March.

“I was speechless. I had been visiting down there and was hurrying to get on the same plane they were to Las Vegas. I said hello to (Torres-Sanchez), but it was very evident she didn’t want to talk to me. She did say they were coming back to treat people in Las Vegas.”

A month later, the Colombians were arrested on murder charges in Caro’s death.

Now, Delgado and Negrete say they will always look up the credentials of people who say they are medical practitioners. And they plan on talking to authorities about what happened to them.

Delgado and Negrete still find it hard to believe that people without proper medical qualifications would engage in practices that would put others’ lives at risk.

“What kind of people would do that?” Negrete said.

She also wonders if she and her mother had complained to authorities two years ago whether the Colombians could have been stopped from coming back again.

“It’s something I think about,” she said

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