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Allergan helps questionable weight loss clinics go fishing for Lap-Band patients

Allergan helps questionable weight loss clinics go fishing for Lap-Band patients

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Allergan, the maker of the Lap-Band surgical device, likes to say that it puts patient safety first.

Undoubtedly, it does not want patients to have a bad outcome. More injuries and deaths from Lap-Band surgeries – especially at a time when the company is seeking FDA approval to expand the use of the devices – could derail a very successful sales record.

Yet many of the clinics and doctors being promoted as Lap-Band surgeons on the company's own website have a series of problems that should give patients pause.

They lack the necessary board certification to prove they are skilled in bariatric medicine. They have been in trouble with state medical boards. They have been implicated in patient deaths.

They have engaged in the same aggressive marketing tactics that the company's CEO recently criticized.

How do we know this?

We checked dozens of doctors in the search engine Allergan offers on www.lapband.com. The site says "Find a LAP-BAND® System Certified Surgeons in Your Area."

Here is some of what we found.

Dr. Marc Paya. If you are a Southern California resident, you may have seen a billboard showing a man stuffing a very large piece of cake into his mouth with the slogan "Dieting Sucks. Get the BAND for Weight Loss." This is exactly the type of ad that Allergan CEO David Pyott criticized in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, saying, "That isn't the wording I would use. We put patients' welfare and safety at the top, so I wouldn't support it."If you go to the website listed at the bottom of the "Dieting Sucks" ads, brandsurgical.com, you will see a "Dr. Paya," no first name. Paya is featured as one of the "system certified surgeons" on Allergan's site, which means he took training that Allergan offered. He also is certified by the American Board of Surgery. He is not certified by an American Board of Bariatric Medicine. Why does that matter? As Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa weight loss specialist, points out on his great blog Weighty Matters, the American Board of Bariatric Medicine is the only board that certifies physicians in weight management, a crucial test of knowledge for doctors truly committed to helping their patients regain a healthy life.

Dr. George Tashjian. Tashjian is featured on the Allergan site, andthe site continually updates his schedule of free Lap-Band seminars. He is one of the doctors who receives referrals from the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign that Pyott criticized. The Medical Board of California filed a complaint in November 2009 charging Tashjian with three counts of gross negligence related to two patient deaths and another patient who was injured. They followed it up in November 2010 with an amended accusation, charging Tashjian with repeated negligent acts and dropping one of the patient deaths from the case. In the remaining patient death case, Tashjian is accused of slicing a 69-year-old patient's intestine during a laparoscopic procedure and then failing to correctly diagnose her when she started to develop a bowel infection. The woman, known as Lucy Z. in board records, died the day after the surgery. In the other case, Tashjian is accused of failing to notice similar warning signs after performing an appendectomy on an 80-year-old known as Romana S. When he finally did operate on her again, he found more than 1.5 liters of clotted blood in her abdomen, the result of his previous surgery. The board wrote, "Romana S. went on to develop kidney failure; pulmonary edema and respiratory failure, requiring intubation; liver failure and septic shock. Following this prolonged and complicated illness, she was discharged to the transitional care unit on December 29, 2006."  Neither of these cases involved Lap-Band surgery, but in July 2010, Tashjian was sued by the family of a man who died after Tashjian performed Lap-Band surgery on him. That case is still in court. Tashjian also helped perform a Lap-Band surgery on Laura Lee Faitro, who died shortly after the surgery. Her husband has filed a class action lawsuit against Top Surgeons, which runs several clinics, including the one where Faitro had her surgery. Tashjian is not named in the lawsuit. Tashjian is not certified by the American Board of Surgery nor by the American Board of Bariatric Medicine.

Dr. Atul Madan. Madan is featured on the Allergan site, as are his free seminars. Like Tashjian, he is one of the doctors who is part of the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign that Pyott criticized, and he works at the Top Surgeons clinics. Madan is certified by the American Board of Surgery but not by the American Board of Bariatric Medicine. He also is being investigated by the Medical Board of California in two cases where patients died following Lap-Band surgeries performed by him: Tamara Walter, 52, and Ana Renteria, 33. As Stuart Pfeifer wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "In letters to the dead patients' families, the board said it was reviewing the ‘quality of care' that Madan provided.

We will explore more clinics and doctors in future posts.

Related Posts:

The doctor with the most cake: Lap-Band surgeon takes the low road

Let Them Eat Cake: Weight-loss doctors push Lap-Band surgery risk-free

Irresponsible marketing for Lap-Bands may have deadly consequences

Controversy comes at a bad time for Lap-Band maker looking to expand market

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