Authorities: Doctor performed unnecessary medical procedures as part of scheme

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WESTLAKE, Ohio -- A cardiologist in Westlake is accused of performing unnecessary medical procedures including catheterizations, tests, stent insertions and causing unnecessary coronary artery bypass surgeries.

Authorities say it was part of a scheme to overbill Medicare and other insurers by $7.2 million. The alleged scheme happened between Feb. 16, 2006-June 28, 2012.

The 16-count indictment against Dr. Harold Persaud, 55, includes one count of health care fraud, 14 counts of making false statements and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from criminal activity.

In a press release, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven Dettelbach said, “The charges in this case are deeply troubling. Inflating Medicare billings alone would be bad enough. Falsifying cardiac care records, making an unnecessary referral for open heart surgery and performing needless and sometimes invasive heart tests and procedures is inconsistent with not only federal law but a doctor’s basic duty to his patients.”

Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland Office, Stephen D. Anthony, added, “This doctor violated the sacred trust between doctor and patient by ordering unnecessary tests, procedures and surgeries to line his pockets. He ripped off taxpayers and put patients’ lives at risk.”

According to the indictment, Persaud had a private medical practice in Westlake and had privileges at three hospitals: Fairview Hospital, St. John Medical Center and Southwest General. All three hospitals confirmed Persaud no longer has privileges with them.

Fairview Hospital provided a statement saying, “We fully cooperated with the government during the investigation. Further, we immediately notified his patients and offered them appropriate follow-up care. Dr. Persaud resigned from the Fairview Hospital medical staff in January 2012.”

St. John Medical Center said it sent letters to 23 patients who it identified may have improperly received stents. It provided a statement saying, “In February 2012, St. John Medical Center launched an internal investigation of Dr. Harry Persaud’s cases after concerns were raised regarding certain interventional cardiology procedures. Dr. Persaud was an independent cardiologist, not employed by St. John Medical Center or University Hospitals. Outside experts were engaged to review Dr. Persaud’s cases, and impacted patients who may have received unnecessary stents were notified. St. John Medical Center also notified appropriate regulatory authorities. Since that time, St. John Medical Center has cooperated with federal officials investigating Dr. Persaud. After the issue was detected, additional quality measures were instituted to more closely monitor heart cases for similar situations going forward. An investigation was immediately launched looking into cases of all cardiologists on staff at St. John’s for any similar issues. There were none. St. John Medical Center is unable to comment further given pending litigation."

A spokesperson for Southwest General provided a statement saying, “Dr. Persaud was an independent physician on the Medical Staff at Southwest General until his leave of absence in 2013. We are aware of the investigation and have cooperated fully with federal officials and will continue to do so moving forward. Southwest General’s top priority continues to be patient safety as well as delivery of the highest quality care.”

Authorities say the doctor did the following:

  • Persaud selected the billing code for each customer submitted to Medicare and private insurers, and used codes that reflected a service that was more costly than that which was actually performed.
  • Persaud performed nuclear stress tests on patients that were not medically necessary.
  • He knowingly recorded false results of patients’ nuclear stress tests to justify cardiac catheterization procedures that were not medically necessary.
  • Persaud performed cardiac catheterizations on patients at the hospitals and falsely recorded the existence and extent of lesions (blockage) observed during the procedures.
  • He recorded false symptoms in patient records to justify testing and procedures on patients.
  • Persaud inserted cardiac stents in patients who did not have 70 percent or more blockage in the vessel that he stented and who did not have symptoms of blockage.
  • He placed a stent in a stenosed artery that already had a functioning bypass, thus providing no medical benefit and increasing the risk of harm to the patient.
  • He improperly referred patients for coronary artery bypass surgery when there was no medical necessity for such surgery, which benefitted Persaud by increasing the amount of follow-up testing he could perform and bill to Medicare and private insurers.
  • Persaud performed medically unnecessary stent procedures, aortograms, renal angiograms and other procedures and tests.

Persaud was arraigned in federal court Thursday afternoon, and he pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Henry Hilow, told FOX 8’s Matt Wright that Persaud is “a good physician, and he’s done nothing wrong.”