Dr. Atiq Durrani denies he's guilty of federal health care charges

Doctor rails against attorney Eric Deters

CINCINNATI -- In an exclusive interview with 9 On Your Side’s Tom McKee, a local spine surgeon defended himself against federal charges of health care fraud Tuesday and railed against the local attorney he claims is attacking him with racial slurs.

Dr. Atiq Durrani repeatedly and “categorically” denied performing any unnecessary surgeries or cheating health insurance. He also denied the U.S. Attorney’s claim that some patients suffered “serious bodily injury” as a result of his unnecessary surgery – a claim repeated in some civil suits.

“That is as factually incorrect as it gets,” Durrani said.

Durrani accused attorney Eric Deters, who has filed more than 150 civil suits against the Pakistani-born doctor, of using “very provocative racial language” to incite patients and the public against him while promising potential clients a huge windfall.

See the unedited video of Durrani's interview in the player below or go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7piB_fMcMAk&feature=c4-overview&list=UUQaDjAIpg-pd44ats-HXCyA

Deters went on TV in February and called Durrani “the butcher of Pakistan.”

Durrani said a "negligible" number of lawsuits had been filed against him between the time he started working in the area in 1999 and last February.

“And then this person comes on TV and literally defames, stirs up an entirely unnecessary divisive issue, calls me every single slur, and that starts the whole piling effect. And unfortunately he tells people he’s hitting some gold mine from which … he would like to share," Durrani said.

“We all know the caliber of that person. … I’m not in the business of mud-slinging. I’m going to stop right here,” Durrani said.

“But I can tell you this: We have never paid a single penny on a claim and don’t intend to pay one on a claim ever. We find this lawsuit frivolous, filed by an irresponsible person even without filing affidavits of merit on these cases. We find these actions reprehensible and we will fight them.”

Durrani’s civil attorney, Michael Lyon, said medical malpractice cases require affidavits of merit from an appropriate expert.

“We have scores of these complaints being filed, frankly, in an effort to … destroy this man into settling, giving up,” said Lyon.

“He’s filing these lawsuits without them even being reviewed,” Durrani said.

Given a chance to respond, Deters told 9 On Your Side: 

"Not only am I not being irresponsible, I am saving lives. I feel so good about the fact that so many people have not had a spine surgery that were planning a spine surgery."

Lyon said Durrani was not "kicked out" of Children's Hospital nor banned from other Cincinnati hospitals as Deters has claimed. Lyon said Durrani simply moved out to West Chester Hospital and opened his own clinics, Centers for Advanced Spine Technologies, in Mason and Florence.

Durrani called accusations that he performed unnecessary surgeries “a difference of opinion between experts.”

"I categorically deny that we have ever performed unnecessary surgeries, number one.  Number two, the five cases that the federal complaint has cited are in a very complex surgery in a very rare genetic disorder.  There are very few people in this country that actually know about this disorder and there are just three centers across this nation that deal with this," the doctor said.

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“With respect to the criminal charges, we’ve reviewed those files,” said Durrani’s criminal attorney, Bruce Whitman. “Those files show that the patients had significant prior treatment by other physicians before they finally got to Dr. Durrani for surgery, and we believe we can defend those cases.”

Durrani said he is a uniquely skilled spine surgeon with more extensive training than most.

“I am more trained in a dedicated way than probably anybody – not even in this area, but if you look at nationally - I’m one of few people who has received formal training in almost every aspect of spine - from infantile spine all the way to the adult spine,” Durrani said.

“I take on the most complex cases that no one else will touch,” he said.

A majority of those are people who have already had surgeries by other doctors, been sent to pain centers “where they receive countless epidural injections” and become dependent on narcotic medication, Durrani said. They lose their jobs and end up on assistance, and the treating physicians tell them there’s nothing more they can do for them.

“These people end up with their primary care doctors, who send them to me with a frantic plea for help,” Durrani said.

Out of those, Durrani said he performs surgery on “two or three people out of 10.”

"Those were the people that I felt could be helped," he said. "These people completely understood going in that I couldn't take away every single pain of theirs.  I was addressing one specific issue and telling them very clearly, 'Is that good enough for you?' They said, 'Yes, Doc. Anything is better than the pain that I'm in.'

“No one told them they were going to be completely normal. No back surgery

makes you normal. It makes you functional. And that was our goal,” he said.

“Anyone who says I persuaded people (to have unnecessary surgery) is completely wrong.”

As to accusations that he botched some surgeries and left patients in worse condition, Durrani said his patients are walking, living proof that those claims are false.

“When we deal with spine surgery, especially in the area the federal government is alleging – which is the upper cervical spine right below the skull – if something goes wrong, as they’re alleging, the results are catastrophic, meaning you are either completely paralyzed or you are dead. I can assure you … not a single one of our patients has either one of those problems,” he said.

On the contrary, Durrani said, his patients are his best advertising.

“The vast majority or our patients are extremely grateful and extremely happy. And the evidence to that is, about 65 percent of … my new patients come from my other patients. So you tell me they’re unhappy (and) they’re sending their family members and friends to see the doctor?”

The federal judge who released Durrani on his own recognizance ordered him to send a letter to his patients informing them of the charges against him. Durrani said many of his patients have supported him since he was indicted last week.

“You have heard several of my patients on TV who have called this a witchhunt,” he said.

“I will remain indebted with gratitude to my patients who literally still have come every single day, called me every single day to show support. They’ve made it a cause on my behalf to fight for the doctor that they believe in and I want to tell them that their love and their compassion have given me the strength today to endure all of this and still sit in front and stand upright and tall.”

Durrani was asked how he holds up under the strain.

"This is not about me. I have two young kids ..."

At that, Durrani choked up and paused 15 seconds, his eyes turning red and teary.

"The manner in which all of this has been conducted is extremely unfair," he said.  "My thought to all of this has never been about me.  It has gone to three people -  my children, my patients, and remember, I have a company.  I have over 30 employees … their lives and their families.  But I want to tell everyone, we will fight and we will defend ourselves against these allegations."

Ten of Durrani’s patients sat around a table in his attorney’s office to express support for the doctor.

“He put me back together,” said Nicole Cadman.

Cadman said her body was literally falling apart before she went to Durrani. She said she has rare Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

“It affects your connective tissues. My shoulder, elbow, ankle, hip, wrist used to go out of socket all the time,” she said, turning and stretching to show her shoulder bone protruding under her skin. “Dr. Durrani fused my C1 and C2 vertebrae and now I’m much better. He’s going to keep working with me.

“I tried to get a diagnosis for seven years – one doctor after another – until I found Dr. Durrani. After I met him, I even went to the Chiari Institute in New York to get a second opinion. The doctors there completely agreed with Dr. Durrani,” Cadman said.

“Just because a doctor is on the cutting edge of medicine and others are still catching up, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

“Dr. Durrani is wonderful. I’ve never met a doctor who has as much compassion,” she said.

Durrani could face up to 25 years in prison after being charged with billing millions of dollars to Medicare and private health care programs for unnecessary surgeries. 

According to the U.S. Attorney's complaint, Durrani billed Medicare for three times as many interior lumbar fusion surgeries than the next most active medical practitioner in Ohio.

With Durrani the attending physician, Medicare was billed $11 million for that procedure from Feb. 1, 2010, through Jan. 31, 2013.

According to the complaint, $7.5 million of that was Part A reimbursements for hospitals, with 95 percent ($7.125 million) going to West Chester Hospital of UC Health.

Another $3.5 million was reimbursed in Medicare Part B payments to physicians, and the government claims Dr. Durrani received $1.5 million of that.

The complaint charges Durrani with one count of health care fraud and one count of making false statements in health care matters. Health care fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. False statements in health care matters can bring five years.

 

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