wof in sheeps clothing

Beware Those Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing

This post was originally published in July 2013, and was updated in July 2020.

Two unrelated stories have crossed my path, but their bottom lines are the same. It’s too easy to be fooled.

Story #1: … is based on a scathing article from the Wall Street Journal about the amount of money medical device companies pay to the doctors who use their products. The story is mostly focused on investigations from the Justice Department starting with one doctor who lived and worked in California, Dr. Aria Sabit, who insisted on using certain spinal implant products because he owns part of the distributorship company and is making money in a half dozen ways – from kickbacks to distributorship profits – over each surgery he does.

But the story-within-the-story is that Dr. Sabit is also named in 12 lawsuits over the deaths of people who died as a result of his surgeries – and who had received those implants to help them live better-quality lives. It matters little whether the fault lies with the implants or the doctor’s skill level; those patients are dead.

But there’s more to the story, of course, and unfortunately, it’s not a part of the WSJ article.

That is, that this Dr. Sabit has left California now, and is practicing in Michigan. A prudent patient or advocate would not easily be able to uncover Sabit’s track record of lawsuits and deaths because he hasn’t been in Michigan long enough to establish a new pattern of deaths. Further, there is not a single national repository of this kind of information for the public to search.

In other words, if you are in Michigan, your client could choose this guy for back surgery and not realize that he’s a danger to back patients seeking surgery. If you had looked at his listing at rating’s sites, he actually looked like a good choice. (Update 2020 – Dr. Sabit is on his way to serving a 20-year prison sentence.)

It’s easy to be fooled. But what if your client died at this doctor’s hand? And what if he had been on your list of possibilities?

Story #2: …is about an advocacy practice partnership that was formed based on false information and lack of background review. It involves two advocates who live and work in the same region. I’ll call them Advocate A and Advocate B.

(With a side note here that I have heard, and relate below, only one side of this story – but the results are the same no matter who tells it….)

The women met about 8 months ago as A’s practice was growing quickly and she had begun to realize that she needed to either clone herself – or to find someone else to supplement her work. Advocate B had been working in a hospital but wanted to be independent. The two advocates spent time together, hit it off very well, and began to talk about working together. They each put together a resume for the other to review. Advocate A was thrilled that she had connected with someone of B’s caliber. Within a few months, they had formed a legal partnership.

But over the next few months, Advocate A began hearing rumblings that things weren’t going as she expected. Advocate B was doing some things that A knew advocates should not be doing. In the name of their partnership, with partnership clients, B was violating many of the standards that A believes in, and adheres to. For example, B was giving medical advice – and in A’s estimation it wasn’t even good medical advice. Clients were making choices A didn’t think were based on good information, and A began to question how someone with B’s credentials could be making the decisions or recommendations she was making.

Advocate A confronted B about these questionable activities, but B refused to back down. She had no plans to change her approach. Her advocacy was her advocacy, and she didn’t care what her partner thought about it.

That confrontation compelled A to begin looking into some of the credentials on B’s resume. And it turns out that many had been falsified, or at the very least, embellished to be far more than reality.

In Advocate A’s estimate, B is not who she said she is. A had been fooled, and now she’s paying the price. It is costing her big legal bucks to undo the partnership, keep her practice intact, and continue to move forward.

Why these stories are jarring to me:

  • Because less than 10 years ago, I could have been that patient who chose that dangerous surgeon.
  • Because over time I have connected with other business people who convinced me of one thing, and actually proved to be something else entirely – a COSTLY something else.
  • Because I know that most of us who choose advocacy as a career believe in people, believe in their goodness, trust that they are who they say they are, and too often have to learn the hard way that our assumptions about them aren’t always true.

We are too often naive. They are always painful lessons.

But as advocates, we have another problem with them. That is, that if they are painful only to us, OK – we can blame ourselves for being naive, fix it, and move on. But if they result in problems for our clients – that’s another story all together. And that can be a dangerous story.

If you pause for a moment and think about it, I guarantee you can think of times you’ve been fooled by someone who wasn’t who he or she said they were. Not necessarily surgeons or other advocates – but maybe a colleague at work, or an old boy or girlfriend… we’ve all been there.

And now, as advocates, it’s your job to make sure no wolves in sheep’s clothing affect YOUR practice or YOUR clients. You can’t afford to be naive or to make assumptions.

The lesson for today: trust, but verify. Whether it’s a client who makes a set of claims about the horrible treatment they are getting from a doctor, or a provider you put on a list of possibilities for your client to review, or an independent contractor who says he/she can handle a case for you – always check into the details of the claims made to you.

Make your practice a no-wolves zone.

Some tools to help:

> How to Research a Doctor’s Credentials

> How to Verify a Doctor’s Board Certification

> Uncovering a doctor’s medical malpractice track record.

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5 thoughts on “Beware Those Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing”

  1. I agree Trisha that the WSJ article is not the entire story. It is criminal that healthcare consumers have no detailed resource except reliable family, friends and neighbors on the safety of a particular provider. But, beyond that, the WSJ article did not talk about the safety of all medical devices. An example is the horrors that women are suffering because of vaginal floor repair with surgical mesh. Another is the danger of metal on metal joints. The fact is that surgical devices are not vetted and tested like drugs are (and even those are not tested and regulated adequately) by the FDA. It is actually not difficult to market a medical device…and the next thing you know, they are implanted into vulnerable patients all over the country. The WSJ would do well to follow up their article with a wider review of the safety of medical devices.

  2. Another really great blog Trisha. Trust is something so very precious. These last 3 years we have become wiser in who we associate with professionally and who we refer our clients to. Over utilization of procedures and surgeries is a very big concern in South Florida, and we dig pretty deep when researching our docs. We are mystery shoppers.

  3. Another lesson here is that wanting to help people by being healthcare navigators should only come along with a solid foundation in business principles. The real failing, if there is one, is that the resume of the partner was not checked.
    It is not enough to want to be a helper.

  4. Thank you. Such a timely article. Actually right on time for me as I embark on a home care agency operation.
    And to Kathy Day’s point about the mesh it was disappointing to find out about a certain practice in Orlando, FL. I left their care because they didn’t seem professional and I am hoping against hope that the accusations against that doctor are not true. It is so painful to have to mistrust someone you first thought so much of at first.

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