A Guyana-born, US cardiologist who ordered patients to undergo unnecessary open heart surgery and carried out risky tests and procedures in order to tap fraudulent payments from Medicare and private insurers has been sentenced to 20 years in a US federal prison, the UK Guardian reported yesterday.
Dr Harry Persaud, 56, was practicing in Westlake, Ohio, at the time of the fraud. The report said that he went to school and trained to be a doctor in the UK after moving to London at the age of 10 from Guyana.
The doctor may have put lives at risk and threatened people’s health while making more than US$7m from manipulating patients’ “sacred trust”, US federal investigators found.
The report said that some patients were injected repeatedly with radioactive material for heart tests which they did not need, with Dr Persaud saying the results proved they needed surgery. Others were given bypass operations or stents for imaginary problems, the FBI said.
“This is the worst kind of healthcare fraud you can have and is the toughest I’ve seen – and I’ve seen some really bad stuff,” Justin Shammot, supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Cleveland office, told the Guardian on Monday.
Dr Persaud also faces losing his medical licence and a hearing in January to decide on restitution to the companies that fraud was committed upon. Lawsuits from several patients are also proceeding. He was sentenced on 18 December, having been found guilty in a federal criminal trial in Cleveland in September. He is not in custody and is awaiting a date from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin his incarceration.
“The thing that bothers me most is the trust that the patients put into their relationship, believing that someone like Dr Persaud is going to provide them with the best medical care they can, and in this case that just did not happen,” Shammot stated in the report.
Dr Persaud was convicted of fraud, falsifying documents and money laundering, after ordering and performing inappropriate treatment between 2006 and 2012, the FBI said. His offences included over-billing insurance companies and the government’s Medicare programme.
The FBI said he ordered unneeded nuclear stress tests and recorded false results in order to justify catheterization, in which a tube is inserted in a blood vessel via the groin, arm or neck and into the heart, as a further diagnostic test. He then fraudulently recorded that patients were suffering blockages, the report said.
Speaking to the Guardian on Tuesday, Dr Persaud said: “I made some billing errors, but I did not do anything wrong, medically. I never put in a stent or did a procedure that I did not think was necessary. I am appealing the conviction and sentence.”
But the report said that federal investigators found that Dr Persaud inserted cardiac stents in patients who did not need them and sent patients for bypass operations performed via open heart surgery, so he could undertake follow-up tests and bill for them, investigators found, according to the UK Guardian report.
“These procedures do have consequences,” Shammot said. “When they are appropriate, the risks are outweighed by the benefits, but [if] you are performing nuclear stress tests and giving patients stents that were not medically necessary … there are all kinds of risks associated with these, including taking medications for the rest of your life.”
Patients testified at Dr Persaud’s sentencing hearing. One woman told the court his practices may have contributed to the death of her husband. A man told the court that the unnecessary stent Dr Persaud put in his heart acts as a ticking time bomb on his health and he lives in fear of complications arising.
Dr Persaud received his secondary education at Kentwood boys school in London from 1971-78 before attending Southampton medical school, from where he graduated. In 1983, he completed surgery training for six months at Glan Clwyd hospital in north Wales, then six months of other medical training at Blackburn infirmary, in Lancashire.
In 1984 he moved to the United States, where his parents lived and became an American citizen, working in a number of different locations until settling in Ohio, the report said.