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Posts Tagged ‘medical tourism’

My first case this morning with another surgeon was cancelled – which was disappointing, but I still had a great day in the operating room with Dr.  Ham and Dr. Abril.  This time I was able to witness a bariatric surgery, so I could report back to all of you.

Dr. Ham (left) and Dr. Abril

I really enjoy their relaxed but detail oriented style – it makes for a very enjoyable case.  Today they performed a sleeve gastrectomy** so I am able to report – that they (Dr. Ham) oversewed the staple line (quite nicely, I might add).  If you’ve read any of the previous books, then you know that this is an important step to prevent suture line dehiscence leading to leakage of stomach contents into the abdomen (which can cause very serious complications.)  As I said – it’s an important step – but not one that every doctor I’ve witnessed always performed.   So I was a pleased as punch to see that these surgeons are as world-class and upstanding as everything I’d seen already suggested..

** as long time readers know, I am a devoted fan of the Roux-en-Y, but recent literature suggests that the sleeve gastrectomy is equally effective in the treatment of diabetes.. Of course – we’ll be watching the research for more information on this topic of debate. I hope further studies confirm these results since the sleeve gives patients just a little less of a drastic lifestyle change.. (still drastic but not shot glass sized drastic.)

Dr. Ham

They invited me to the show this evening – they are having several clowns (that are doctors, sort of Patch Adams types) on the show to talk about the health benefits of laughter.  Sounds like a lot of fun – but I thought I better catch up on my writing..

I’ll be back in the OR with Los Doctores again tomorrow..

Speaking of which – I wanted to pass along some information on the anesthesiologist for Dr. Molina’s cases since he did such a nice job with the conscious sedation yesterday.  (I’ve only watched him just yesterday – so I will need a few more encounters, but I wanted to mention Dr. Andres Garcia Gutierrez all the same.

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Haven’t had time to sit down and write about my trip to the operating room with Dr. Horacio Ham and Dr. Rafael Abril until now, but that’s okay because I am going back again on Saturday for a longer case at a different facility.  Nice surprise to find out that Dr. Octavio Campa was scheduled for anesthesia.  Both Dr. Ham and Dr. Abril told me that Dr. Campa is one their ‘short list’ of three or four preferred anesthesiologists.  That confirms my own impressions and observations and what several other surgeons have told me.

campa

Dr. Campa (left) and another anesthesiologist at Hispano Americano

That evening we were at Hispano – Americano which is a private hospital that happens to be located across the street from the private clinic offices of several of the doctors I have interviewed.  It was just a quick short case (like most laparoscopy cases) – but everything went beautifully.

As I’ve said before, Dr. Campa is an excellent anesthesiologist so he doesn’t tolerate any hemodynamic instability, or any of the other conditions that make me concerned about patients during surgery.

Dr. Ham  and Dr. Abril work well together – everything was according to protocols – patient sterilely prepped and draped, etc..

laparoscopy

laparoscopy with Dr. Ham & Dr. Abril

I really enjoy talking with the docs, who are both fluent in English – but I won’t get more of an interview with Dr. Abril until Saturday.

w/ Dr. Ham

with Dr. Horacio Ham in the operating room after the conclusion of a successful case

Then – on Wednesday night – I got to see another side of the Doctors Ham & Abril on the set of their radio show, Los Doctores.  They were interviewing the ‘good doctor’ on sympathetectomies for hyperhidrosis – so he invited me to come along.

Los Doctores invited me to participate in the show – but with my Spanish (everyone remembers the ‘pajina’ mispronunciation episode in Bogotá, right?)  I thought it was better if I stay on the sidelines instead of risking offending all of Mexicali..

Los Doctores

on the set of Los Doctores; left to right: Dr. Rafael Abril, Dr. Carlos Ochoa, Dr. Mario Bojorquez and Dr. Horacio Ham

It really wasn’t much like I expected; maybe because all of the doctors know each other pretty well, so it was a lot more relaxed, and fun than I expected.  Dr. Abril is the main host of the show, and he’s definitely got the pattern down; charming, witty and relaxed, but interesting and involved too.. (my Spanish surprises me at times – I understood most of his jokes…)  It’s an audience participation type show – so listeners email / text their questions during the show, which makes it interesting but prevents any break in the format, which is nice.  (Though I suppose a few crazy callers now and then would be entertaining.)

Dr. Ochoa did a great talk about sympathectomy and how life changing it can be for patients after surgery, and took several questions.  After meeting several patients pre and post-operatively for hyperhidrosis, I’d have to say that it’s true.  It’s one of those conditions (excessive palmar and underarm sweating) that you don’t think about if you don’t have – but certainly negatively affects sufferers.  I remember an English speaking patient in Colombia telling me about how embarrassing it was to shake hands -(she was a salesperson) and how offended people would get as she wiped off her hands before doing so.  She also had to wear old-fashioned dress shields so she wouldn’t have big underarm stains all the time..  This was in Bogota (not steamy hot Cartagena), which is known for it’s year-round fall like temperatures and incredibly stylish women so you can imagine a degree of her embarrassment.

It (bilateral sympathectomy) is also one of those procedures that hasn’t really caught on in the USA – I knew a couple people in Flagstaff who told me they had to travel to Houston (or was it Dallas?) to find a surgeon who performed the procedure..  So expect a more detailed article in the future for readers who want to know more.

Tomorrow, (technically later today) I head back to San Luis with the good doctor in the morning to see a couple of patients – then back to the hospital.. and then an interview with a general surgeon.. So it should be an interesting and fun day.

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I’ll be writing a new series of articles for the Examiner.com based on my experiences, interviews and observations here in Mexicali, MX and Calexico, California.  While the focus will be on serving the needs of the Calexico community (particularly now that there is a fast pass lane for medical travelers), I hope that all of my loyal readers will continue to support my work.

I have already published my first three articles  – and have added a new navigation section (on the side of this blog) for interested readers.

As part of this, I wrote a story about the good doctor and all of the work he is doing – including one of our recent ‘house calls’ to San Luis, in Sonora, Mexico.   It was probably one of the more difficult articles to write; due to space limitations and trying to present information in an objective fashion.  (It’s hard to present all the evidence to support your conclusions in just a few hundred words;  ie. He’s a good doctor because he does X, Y, and Z and follows H protocol according the P.”  Makes for wordy reading and not really what the Examiner is looking for.

Too bad, since readers over at Examiner.com haven’t had the chance to know that if the opposite is true (a less than stellar physician or treatment – that I have absolutely no reservations about presenting the evidence  and stating the facts about that either..)

Don’t worry, though – I will continue to provide that level of detail here at Cartagena Surgery – where the only limitations are my ability to type, and the (sometimes) faulty keys of my aging laptop.

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Cancun on a hazy day

I was pleased but surprised when I received an email from Dr. Mario Gonzalez Cepeda, MD who is a plastic surgeon here at the Perfection clinic in central Cancun.  After speaking with Dr. Gonzalez briefly, we arranged for a meeting to talk about the future of surgery in Cancun and the creation of a medical complex catering to surgical specialties.

Dr. Gonzalez, and Luis Arturo Guillermo Irigoyen, MBA, CP, the CEO of Perfection Medical Group met with me to discuss their plans for the creation of a medical city.  Currently in the first stage of implementation, the team at Perfection envisions a free-standing private hospital offering medical tourists a range of specialty services including plastic, bariatric, orthopedic and cardiovascular surgery.  They already have strategies in place to attract well qualified (and English-speaking) providers and medical staff, and will be seeking international health care facility accreditation.

It sounds like an excellent plan to me.  While Dr. Gonzalez will be building a new hospital much of the other infrastructure essential to a successful medical tourism destination is already in place; Cancun is packed full with a wide range of hotels, from the more modestly priced to the elegant facilities such as Rui, Crystal and the Vista Americana.  The local airport already caters to international travelers and receives flights from several North American cities daily (with short flights in comparison to travel to Asia and India).  The surroundings are lush, welcoming and Hispano – Caribbean in flavor, with gorgeous white sand beaches and nearby Mayan ruins for visitors to explore.

Mr. Irigoyen gives an estimated timeline of two years until completion, so we will check back in soon and see how the project is progressing.

 Perfection Medical Group

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New allegations of gross medicare fraud from overstenting and unnecessary interventional procedures has been filed against surgeons in Pennsylvania, including the prestigious UPMC medical center.  This story, (based on cases dating back to 2001 and onwards), comes just as the dust in settling from an outbreak of unnecessary stent cases in neighboring Maryland.

What is overstenting?

Article by Michael R’iordan from the Heart.com re-posted below:

Cardiologists accused of defrauding Medicare by performing unnecessary cardiac procedures

Erie, PA – A new whistle-blower lawsuit filed in US District Court in Erie, PA claims that five cardiologists from two medical practices defrauded Medicare by performing unnecessary cardiac and vascular surgeries and interventional procedures between 2001 and 2005.

The suit, filed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and first reported January 22, 2012 in the Erie Times-News [1], states that as a result of the fraud, Medicare overpaid for these procedures, which wasted substantial public money, and patients were placed at significant and unnecessary risk of harm.

According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by heartwire, the physicians named are Drs Richard Petrella, Robert Ferraro, Charles Furr, Timothy Trageser, and Donald Zone. The two medical practices named in the lawsuit are Medicor Associates Inc—and its affiliate Flagship Cardiac, Vascular, and Thoracic Surgery (CVTS)—and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hamot (formerly known as Hamot Medical Center). The Medicor practice is the full-service cardiology center affiliated with UPMC Hamot.

The lawsuit states that from June 2001 and earlier, the defendants “knowingly, systematically, routinely, and repeatedly submitted false claims to and received reimbursements from Medicare and other federal healthcare programs for medically unnecessary cardiac catheterizations and cardiac and vascular surgical procedures, including but not limited to . . . PCI.”

As result of the false claims, the physicians received money to “which they were not entitled.”

Paid directorships and kickbacks

Dr Tullio Emanuele, who worked at Medicor and Hamot Medical Center from 2001 to 2005, filed the suit and claims that Medicor engaged in illegal “kickbacks” with Hamot Medical Center and referred cardiac patients to the hospital. In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Hamot signed contracts with Medicor and Flagship CVTS, valued at $75 000 per physician and as high as $525 000 per year, and the doctors would refer patients in need of medical procedures to Hamot Medical Center.

“Specifically, Hamot identified physicians who referred a high volume of patients and/or had potential to refer a high volume of patients for special treatment and offered remuneration to them in the guise of sham contracts for medical directorships or other similar personal service arrangements,” according to the lawsuit.

The claim states the physicians and the participating hospitals violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the federal Stark Act, which says that a hospital is not allowed to submit a claim for reimbursement from Medicare if the procedure has been referred by a physician with improper financial ties to the hospital.

The suit also claims that Emanuele began to grow suspicious in 2004 when he noticed higher rates of intervention among certain physicians within the group. Between 2004 and 2005, 4408 catheterizations were performed, and Petrella, Trageser, and Ferraro had a “rate of surgical intervention following catheterization of double the junior members of the group.”

Emanuele, according to the lawsuit, believes that many of the procedures were performed unnecessarily. For example, Trageser is accused of performing a cardiac catheterization in a patient with chest pain, despite the symptomology being inconsistent with angina. Ferraro is accused of implanting a stent in an artery with moderate stenosis, even though Emanuele previously recommended medical therapy. Zone performed a cardiac catheterization and overstated the severity of stenosis, sending the patient on to CABG surgery, where he/she later died.

UPMC Hamot and the named physicians received copies of the lawsuit last week, according to the Erie Times-News, and have 20 days to respond. If they are found guilty, UPMC Hamot and the Medicor physicians would be required to reimburse Medicare at triple the cost of the original procedure. Emanuele, as the whistle-blower in the case, would be entitled to 30% of the reimbursed money.

More on similar stories here at Cartagena Surgery:

The Ethics of the Syntax Trial

Stent Scandal series:

Cardiology takes another hit

Mark Midei – or the man who started it all..

This is just a sample of the articles available here at Cartagena Surgery.. For more on this topic, look under the cardiology tab..

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As many of my long time readers know, that during the last month or so, I have been reviewing studies, and data on the Syntax trial as part of a presentation at my hospital.  This has been more time-consuming and angst-wrenching than I would have ever expected; the more data I reviewed, the more conflicted I became about the ethical questions involved in a study of this kind.

Granted, I have a sensitive nature, and as a nurse, patient advocacy is one of my primary goals.  But thankfully, I found that I am not alone in questioning the legitimacy of subjecting patients to a ‘non-inferiority’ trial.

“In our opinion, the Syntax study disregarded the safety of the patients, by including death and major complications of a primary end-point of a non-inferiority study.”
— Mantovani et. al (2010).
Mantovani et al. (2010) Non-inferiority randomized trials, an issue between science and ethics: the case of the Syntax study.  Scandinavian Cardiovascular Journal, 2010; 44: 321-324.  Mantovani et al. full text pdf.   They question the benefit of subjecting patients to unproven therapies using a trial design that really fails to prove much at all about the effectiveness of the proposed treatment, (in this case, PCI).  They have an excellent discussion (and definitions for the uninitiated) on trial designs and what they really mean, in real terms.
As they point out – studies with this kind of trial design – really don’t prove anything at all.  It was a methodology designed by pharmaceutical companies in order to get new drugs on the market (whether or not these newer, more expensive versions of existing drugs were an improvement over older, safer, cheaper versions or not.)
But in this case – the real results were the unintended ones! Despite a skewed set of accounting (weighing heavily in cardiology’s favor) the results were determinedly negative, showing worse patient outcomes with stents, more deaths, more serious adverse events with stents.
As I delved even further into the data,  I began to question the concept of patient ‘informed consent’ all together.  Can a patient really comprehend the risks involved and what these outcomes really mean in practical terms for something like this?  Would anyone in the study actually break it down in a honest and straight-forward (no BS) fashion to potential study participants?
And how do patients (lay public) understand all of this anyway?  Their perceptions might radically differ from what we (researchers) think we’ve presented.  And, in fact – there are some HUGE differences, as multiple studies attest.  What patients hear and understand is DRAMATICALLY different from what we might expect.
Somehow, I don’t expect that researchers said to patients (for example):
“Mr. X, you are 50 years old, with HTN, diabetes and severe CAD affecting all three major arteries.  Since your labs, and general health is otherwise unremarkable, according to experience and the STS risk calculator, your risk for death with bypass surgery is Y (pretty darn safe). However, we would like to put you in a study where you may receive anywhere from 3 to 20 stents with extensive exposure to nephrotoxic (kidney-harming) dye,  and radiation.  These stents may close either acutely (stent thrombosis) or over time, causing a potentially fatal heart attack.  Stent occlusion happens much more frequently then bypass graft occlusion.  Oh, and by the way – we aren’t doing this study to see if stents are better than bypass surgery (we already know it isn’t) – we are doing it to see how much worse it is – within acceptable margins, of course [whatever than may be].”
No, somehow – I don’t think it went down like that.
More on the Syntax Trial comparing PCI and CABG:
Syntax, part II: New guidelines for revascularization
More on PCI appropriateness  (we have an entire series on PCI here at Cartagena Surgery)

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Dying to be thin?  These patients are… A look at the Get-Thin clinics in Beverly Hills, California..

This series from LA Times writers, Michael Hiltzik and Stuart Pfiefer highlights the importance of safety and the apparent lack of regulation in much of the bariatric procedure business here in the United States.

In these reports – which follow several patient deaths from lap-band procedures, both surgeons and surgical staff alike have made numerous reports against the ‘Get Thin” clinics operating in Beverly Hills and West Hills, California.  These allegations include unsafe and unsanitary practices.  One of the former surgeons is involved in a ‘whistle-blower’ lawsuit as he describes the dangerous practices in this clinic and how they led to several deaths.

Regulators ignore complaints against Beverly Hills clinics despite patient deaths  – in the most recent installment, Hiltzik decries the lack of action from regulatory boards who have ignored the situation since complaints first arose in 2009!

House members call for probe into Lap-Band safety, marketing – California legislators call for action, but the clinics stay open. (article by Stuart Pfiefer)

Plaintiffs allege ‘gruesome conditions’ at Lap-Band clinics – mistakes and cover-ups at the popular weight loss clinics.  (article by Stuart Pfiefer)  This story detailing a patient’s death made me ill – but unfortunately reminded me of conditions I had seen at a clinic I wrote about in a previous publication..  The absolute lack of the minimum standards of patient care – is horrifying.  This woman died unnecessarily and in agony.  It proves my point that anesthesiologists need to be detailed, and focused on the case at hand.. (not iPhones, crosswords or any of the other distractions I’ve seen in multiple cases.. Now this case doesn’t specifically mention a distracted anesthesiologist – but given the situation described in the story above, he couldn’t have been paying attention, that’s for sure.

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