August 6, 2007 archive

Coronary: A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry – Book Review

When doctors allow themselves to become beholden to corporations, as Moon and Realyvasquez did to Tenet in return for six-figure fees and perks such as easy access to hospital aircraft, management’s bottom line becomes indistinguishable from their own. It is not surprising therefore that the less scrupulous among them get sloppy about their professional and legal obligations to patients while actively promoting their own and the company’s financial issues. – From Coronary, page 276-

In September of 2001 I  moved to Shasta County, California – a pretty and rural area dominated by the Sacramento River, beautiful mountains and lush forests. A year later, one of the biggest medical fraud and malpractice scandals in the United States rocked the Shasta County community of Redding, California and that is pretty much all anyone talked about for months. So when earlier this year Klaidman’s well researched and detailed book was published, I was surprised it wasn’t being read by every person in the county. It got a blurb in the newspaper and a few people wrote angry letters to the editor complaining that Klaidman had written unduly harsh commentary about the community of Redding…but otherwise it was released to mostly silence. Ironically, Klaidman’s account in part explains this resistance of Redding’s citizens to see the scandal for what it was and is – a shameful, egg-in–the-face, shocking betrayal which is hard to understand and harder still to accept.

The story is about a large corporation (Tenet Healthcare), two egotistical doctors (Dr. Chae Hyun Moon – a celebrated cardiologist, and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez – a respected cardiac surgeon), a state of the art hospital, a tight-knit, rural community and the hundreds of patients who were operated on unnecessarily. When all the numbers were in, an astounding 769 patients over a period of a few short years had undergone completely unnecessary, invasive cardiac procedures including by-pass surgeries. Almost half were under the age of 65 years old. And the doctors involved as well as Redding Medical Center, owned by Tenet, had profited to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Many patients died from complications of their unneeded medical care, still others are living lives of chronic disability and pain. A three year Federal investigation led to a huge (more than 450 million dollar) settlement, but no criminal charges. Astonishing? Yes. I couldn’t put this book down.

 Klaidman walks the reader through the unfolding scandal piece by piece, introducing the key players and demonstrating how something this obscene could actually happen in our medical system. The book is compulsively readable and almost unbelievable. The reader will never view the medical system in the same way again.

As someone who has worked as a licensed physical therapist for eighteen years, I found myself dismayed and angry after reading Klaidman’s novel. This shouldn’t happen – ever.

This is a book that everyone should read.

Highly recommended.

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