Surgeons under Investigation for Deals with Medical Device Makers

Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiling the fraudulent acts of a spinal surgeon who is now at the center of federal and civil investigations and dozens of malpractice lawsuits. The surgeon, Aria Sabit, had ownership interest in a company that sold the surgical devices he used in patients, some with devastating consequences.

Federal prosecutors identified Dr. Sabit in its investigation of a network of spinal implant distributorships owned by physicians and operated by two former medical device company employees. The network of more than ten distributorships in six states was based in Utah and enjoyed tens of millions of profits over the last six years.

Physician-owned distributorships (PODs) are not uncommon in the United States, acting as convenient intermediaries between hospitals and medical device manufacturers. Since surgeons often have ultimate control over what devices their hospitals purchase for surgery, they can steer business to their own distributorships and their own pockets.

In March 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Officer of Inspector General announced a special fraud alert concerning PODs. It asserted that these companies pose immediate danger to patient health and safety, as surgeons have incentive to perform more procedures than medically necessary and favor certain devices even though they may not be clinically appropriate.

Not surprisingly, federal investigations revealed that Dr. Sabit dictated to his hospital in Ventura, California which implants he wanted to use during procedures, and that he was steering business to the company he had investments in, Apex Medical Technologies. The Justice Department is now considering whether Dr. Sabit over-operated on patients to receive kick-backs or otherwise contributed to unnecessary patient complications.

Nearly 30 former patients have sued Dr. Sabit, alleging he was medically negligent in several different ways, such as by misplacing implants in patients’ spines and performing unnecessarily extensive surgeries. The hospital in Ventura, Community Memorial Hospital, ultimately fired him, and he is now practicing medicine in Michigan.

Dr. Sabit owned one-fifth of Apex Medical Technologies between 2010 and 2012. During those two years, he reportedly received about $12,000 per month from Apex in profit distributions. During his 18 months at Community Memorial Hospital, Sabit performed 371 procedures, 306 of them on the spine – he switched to using Apex medical devices for all procedures in 2010, though he had used a variety in the year before that. He barred several nurses from working with him during his procedures, calling them ‘disagreeable,’ many of whom have testified against him.

His exclusive use of Apex medical devices spurred much speculation at Community Memorial. Indeed, hospital records indicate that before he became part-owner of Apex, Sabit averaged 14 procedures a month, with 76% spinal surgeries. After Apex, he averaged 22 procedures with 87% spinal cases.

One particularly gruesome case involved Lillian Kaulback, a woman in her late 60s with several health issues. Dr. Sabit operated on her in October 2010 using Apex implants to fuse three vertebral levels. Before the surgery, Kaulback was active, regularly attending bingo and family functions; after, she was rendered immobile, could not walk, and was in and out of the ICU. Her primary care doctor reported an open, gaping wound on her back, which was infected with pus and bugs. She was eventually admitted into a nursing home, where she died six months later, in May 2011.

Kaulback’s family recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sabit and Community Memorial. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will continue to report on cases like this, as the public must be made aware of all fraudulent, misleading, or criminal actions taken by American doctors. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by Dr. Sabit or another negligent physician, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries

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