On Friday, Dr. Farid Fata was sentenced to 45 years in prison in the state of Michigan.
If you read or watch the news reports you would think the reason behind his long sentence had something to do with the fact that he had diagnosed 500+ people with cancer they didn’t really have, told them they needed chemo, then treated them for those cancers they didn’t have. As a result many died, some will deal with the aftermaths of unneeded chemo for the rest of their lives, some are ruined financially in medical debt, and worse.
The headlines read things like,
He did do those things. Horrible, cruel, heinous crimes against those victims and society that hit way too close to home for me. He is a despicable human being and deserves many more than 45 years in prison, in my not-so-humble opinion.
But here’s what most of us are missing:
Fata wasn’t found guilty, nor will be be imprisoned, because any of those people suffered. He isn’t paying the price for anything related to the heartbreak, fear, mental or emotional anguish he put those patients and their families through. His legal-guilt has nothing – NOTHING – to do with the physical, mental or emotional horrors of his crime.
No. Instead he is going to prison because he defrauded the government and Blue Cross-Blue Shield out of money. His crimes were money crimes. According to CNN, “He pleaded guilty to 13 counts of Medicare fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks and two counts of money laundering.” According to the Detroit News, the amounts total $34 million.
Could Fata have been stopped? Yes, he most certainly could have.
In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that all 553 patients could have avoided what happened to them. Every one of them could have gotten the care they needed, and avoided the care they did not need ……If they had a patient advocate who was paying attention, an advocate would would have taken some or all of these important steps:
1. Research this monster to uncover his track record. It took me about 2 minutes to learn that Fata has a long and storied history of malpractice going back at least to 2009 – four years before his first arrest for fraud. An advocate could have uncovered this information in the state databases that hold such information. (That information is now replaced in Michigan’s database with “license revoked.”)
2. Request, and review, the patient’s medical records. Many of the news stories cite the fact that Fata lied to his patients about their cancer / blood test results. But the results are the results. If no cancer is detected, the paperwork can’t lie.It can be incorrect. It may need to be done again, but what’s in the blood is in the blood. That can’t change. (This is exactly how I figured out I had been misdiagnosed. It was my own review of my own test results that led me to begin asking questions about my diagnosis.)
3. Research the diagnoses provided by Fata. There is enough information online that everyone of those diagnoses would have been disproved – every one. With the test results in hand, and symptoms research, enough information would have been obvious to an advocate to suggest that more questions needed to be asked. Asking those questions would have led to a more accurate diagnosis.
4. Most obvious of all – a patient advocate would never consider allowing his or her client to undergo chemotherapy (or any other difficult therapy) without being sure the client had obtained at least a second opinion, and possibly more opinions if necessary. This is the part that is most appalling to me. Why didn’t any of these patients seek second opinions prior to beginning their chemo?
Do not (and I repeat – do not!) take any of this as the casting of aspersions on the patients and families who suffered. They have done nothing more than to trust a doctor they thought was trustworthy, assuming (uh-huh) he would never suggest they had a disease, or needed treatment, that was not appropriate. They are innocent victims of a monster who can never repay to them what they have lost.
I bring this to your attention to say that patients NEED advocates. Patients NEED someone who is looking out for them. Patients NEED someone who can ask the right questions and get the right answers so the patient can get exactly what they need from the system – not one thing more or one thing less. Patients need someone to help them make sure their trust is well placed.
So how can you, the advocate, use this information?
When you are contacted by a potential client, you can raise this example to them. No, don’t tell them HOW you would have prevented this from happening to them. Just tell them you could have and would have. Let them reach their own conclusions about the necessity of hiring you.
Then explain that misdiagnosis occurs in up to 40% of cases, and that it is rarely intentional as it was here. Most of the time it’s “just” a mistake – but it’s a mistake THEY and their loved ones will pay dearly for.
Can you tell how thoroughly disgusted and furious I am about the entire situation?
That man, Farid Fata, cannot suffer enough for his crimes against innocent human beings.
And we advocates cannot commit ourselves strongly enough to making sure this never happens again.
Update January 2016: Revisiting the Case of Farid Fata – Why Patient Advocates Must Take Notice
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