A dogged attempt to shed light on the troubling nexus between money and medicine through the story of two doctors in Redding, Calif., who generated enormous fees for themselves and for the Redding Medical Center by performing highly questionable procedures.
Journalist Klaidman, whose Saving the Heart (2000) looked at advances in fighting coronary disease, was not able to interview either cardiologist Chae Hyun Moon or cardiac surgeon Fidel Realyvasquez, the two doctors in question, but did talk to many of their patients, as well as nurses, technicians and other doctors, and he had access to extensive medical records and sworn depositions. These sources and his contacts with the lawyers involved provided a wealth of background information, but unfortunately the author gets so bogged down in it that what could be a gripping story of personal ambition, corporate greed and shattered lives is burdened by a morass of inconsequential details. Klaidman opens with an account of previous misdeeds by the corporation running the hospital, foreshadowing the iniquities to come, and he then plunges into the story of one patient who narrowly escapes unneeded heart surgery there. Others are not so lucky, and Klaidman has provided numerous chilling examples of the damage they suffered. Lawyers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors—all become involved, and the legal maneuverings go on for years, dividing the town of Redding into two camps. Groups one might expect to take action—Medicare, Medicaid, the state medical board and medical society—do not. The ending is rather a letdown: There are no criminal prosecutions, no trials that might have been revealing; however, the doctors and the hospital do agree to pay large settlements. Drs. Moon and Realyvasquez are no longer practicing medicine, but, as Klaidman points out, the policies this hospital and other for-profit hospitals may conjure up in the future bears watching.
The book reveals a troubling situation, but unfortunately it’s a tedious read.