Doctor linked to 1-800-GET-THIN faces medical board action
One of the brothers behind the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign for weight-loss surgery faces the possible revocation of his medical license in a misconduct case filed by state regulators.
The Medical Board of California accused Michael Omidi of “repeated acts of negligence” in treating two women, one who sought corrective breast surgery and a second who sought weight-loss surgery.
The board alleged that Omidi provided “substandard care” in the treatment of the first woman and that his staff gave “inaccurate or misleading information” about the second woman’s health, saying she had sleep apnea even though she had not been previously diagnosed with the disorder.
Omidi denied wrongdoing and intends to dispute the allegations in what is formally called an accusation at a hearing before the board, said Andra Greene, his attorney.
“Dr. Omidi will present his defense through the testimony of highly regarded experts who will defend his care and treatment of the two patients mentioned in the accusation,” Greene said in an email to The Times.
“Until that hearing takes place,” she said, “the board’s allegations are just that: assertions that are yet to be proved.”
The medical board’s action comes as state legislators consider sweeping reforms of the way California oversees physicians. One bill would strip the board of its power to discipline physicians. Lawmakers contend that the agency has struggled to hold problem doctors accountable.
Omidi and his brother Julian used widespread advertising of the 1-800-GET-THIN telephone number to attract patients for Lap-Band weight-loss surgery at clinics they owned and operated, former patients have alleged in lawsuits.
Five patients died after having Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign from 2009 to 2011, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
Both of the Omidi brothers have previously been disciplined.
The medical board revoked Julian Omidi’s license to practice medicine in 2009 for failing to disclose he had attended UC Irvine, which expelled him in 1990 after he was charged with burglary of a campus office.
The board placed Michael Omidi on three years of probation in 2008 for performing surgeries on three patients at an unaccredited surgical facility.
In the latest complaint, filed April 23, the board said Michael Omidi provided substandard care to a woman who needed surgery to replace ruptured silicone gel implants. Shortly after the operation in early 2008, the woman suffered a recurrence, the board said.
The complaint alleged that medical charts failed to show she was warned of the high probability of a recurrence and failed to show any reference to follow-up visits over two years. Omidi, the complaint said, also failed to “appropriately manage” her post-operative care.
Another woman sought Lap-Band surgery in early 2010, but an Omidi employee encouraged her to have a breast reduction surgery instead because her medical insurance covered that, the complaint said. That surgery left her with “loss of sensation and asymmetry” that required corrective surgery, the board said.
The woman remained a patient and was preparing for Lap-Band surgery when she was referred to a pre-surgery sleep study. The doctor’s staff told the woman that she “qualified for a C-PAP machine” to treat sleep apnea, though she never had complaints or diagnoses of the disorder, according to the accusation.
The board alleged that offering such inaccurate or misleading information “for the purpose of increasing the medical office revenues” departed from a physician’s standard of care and raised “serious concerns about the ethical practice of medicine.”
The board requested that a hearing be held to determine whether Michael Omidi’s license should be revoked or suspended.
The Omidis’ weight-loss surgery business was a financial success. Julian Omidi once said the business brought in $21 million a month, according to the testimony of surgeon Dr. Ihsan Shamaan at a deposition for a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Advertising for 1-800-GET-THIN was removed from billboards and other venues last year after the Food and Drug Administration said the ads were misleading because they failed to adequately disclose the surgery’s risks.
Allergan Inc., the Irvine manufacturer of the Lap-Band, has said it would no longer sell the device to any companies affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN. Allergan is trying to sell the Lap-Band brand.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement agents have investigated the Omidi brothers for possible criminal violations that include healthcare fraud, a special agent for the FDA’s criminal division said in an affidavit filed last year at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, declined to provide an update about that investigation.
Kathryn Trepinski, an attorney who has filed a lawsuit against 1-800-GET-THIN on behalf of relatives of a woman who died after Lap-Band surgery, said she was pleased that the medical board “is finally taking aggressive action.”
“The allegations, if true, are deeply disturbing,” she said. “They go beyond mere mishaps into purposeful misconduct, such as giving a patient a false diagnosis in order to sell her an expensive piece of medical equipment.”
“This isn’t the first time the medical board has acted against Dr. Omidi,” she said. “How many patients have to suffer before he receives the ultimate sanction, the removal of his license?”
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