A Greedy Neurosurgeon in Michigan recently got 20 years in prison. Typically, surgical errors by physicians are unintentional. A misdiagnosis, misread study, or error during a surgical procedure can cause significant post-op problems, but few doctors set out to harm patients or perform unnecessary procedures. The case and conviction of Dr. Aria Sabit, of Michigan and California, is the exception. This case is the worst of the worst – where financial greed caused harm to numerous patients.
Prosecutors allege the Detroit-area neurosurgeon had one simple reason for performing so many unnecessary invasive spinal surgeries and implanting more devices than medically necessary when spinal fusion surgery may have been appropriate: to pad the profits he made as an investor in a small spinal-surgery device firm.
Last week, Dr. Sabit pleaded guilty to 4 counts of healthcare fraud, 1 count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and 1 count of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, resulting in $2.8 million in losses to Medicare, Medicaid and various insurers. His 20-year prison sentence is the result of a multi-year investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
In February 2010, while on staff at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, Calif., Dr. Sabit invested in Apex Medical Technologies, which was owned by another neurosurgeon and 3 non-physicians. In exchange for sharing in Apex’s profits, Dr. Sabit agreed to convince his hospital to buy spinal implant devices from Apex and also to use them in his surgical procedures. Dr. Sabit both concealed his financial interest in the company, and admitted to increasing the number of devices he used in his patients to boost the Apex sales numbers.
This ethical breach came with consequences – Dr. Sabit was responsible for almost 70% of the post-surgical readmissions to the hospital, and it is reported that at least one of his patients died. The hospital suspended his privileges in December 2010, and when he was sued by almost 30 of his patients for malpractice, Dr. Sabit beat a path out of town and moved to Michigan. There, he owned and operated the Michigan Brain and Spine Physicians Group. From January 2011 till his arrest in November 2014, he submitted false claims for surgical services that were never rendered, according to the Department of Justice.
While we rarely see such blatant medical malpractice and fraud here in New Jersey, it is important to always be vigilant. Doctors may have financial stakes in companies and use their products ethically, but they may not utilize those products unnecessarily to goose profits. Performing online research in advance can alert patients to any potential concerns, and it is always possible to respectfully ask about any conflicts of interest pre-surgery.