Beaufort News

Questions raised about Hilton Head medical-imaging company

In this photo taken Thursday afternoon, a sign for "Cancer Check America" is clearly seen in the window at Advanced Imaging at Heritage Medical Plaza on Hilton Head Island. The sign has since been removed.
In this photo taken Thursday afternoon, a sign for "Cancer Check America" is clearly seen in the window at Advanced Imaging at Heritage Medical Plaza on Hilton Head Island. The sign has since been removed. Fitz McAden/ The Island Packet

S.C. public health officials Friday said they will inspect a Hilton Head Island medical-imaging company next week after learning of the company's link to a similar operation in Colorado that ran afoul of regulators there.

The Colorado imaging company, Heart Check America, closed after regulators determined that only about 5 percent of its clientele had been referred by doctors -- a requirement in Colorado -- and it was being supervised by a doctor whose license had lapsed, according to Colorado health department records.

The company on Hilton Head, Cancer Check America, began operating out of an office occupied by Advanced Imaging at 460 William Hilton Parkway, about 2 1/2 months ago, offering free lung or heart CT scans, a company official said.

A sign for Cancer Check America hung in the window of Advanced Imaging's office Thursday afternoon. The sign had been removed Friday.

Cancer Check America received a business license from the Town of Hilton Head Island after applying in March under the name CCA Services LLC.

Both companies offer "preventative imaging" as a screening tool for asymptomatic patients, according to Heart Check America's website and David Haddad, a Hilton Head resident who said he was the manager of Cancer Check America. Haddad also oversaw Heart Check America operations in Denver, he said.

Haddad on Friday said the Denver office was closed only temporarily but would reopen in June with a new, licensed physician.

The company's troubles in Colorado came at a time when state health regulators were notifying walk-in scan clinics about updated state regulations, said Warren Smith of the Colorado Department of Public Health. Colorado health officials were contacted by their counterparts in Nevada, who had been looking into Heart Check America. Nevada's concerns prompted Colorado regulators to move Heart Check America to the top of the list of clinics to contact, Smith said.

Heart Check America also has operations in California, Illinois and Washington, D.C., according to its website.

"Heart Check has been a Rolls-Royce of a company for 17 years," Haddad said Friday. "They (Colorado) changed the regulations. The license for Heart Check's medical director lapsed and we had no idea. It was not a crime, but a compliance issue. ... We closed to get into compliance."

The company performed heart, lung, bone-density, whole-body and other scans advertised as a "virtual physical," according to Colorado health officials.

A letter to the Colorado Medical Board by Brian Vamvakias, head of the state's X-ray certification unit, said exposure to the controlled radiation from scanning equipment should have been better justified medically. The letter states that images produced by the clinic were not sufficient for a diagnosis and may not have been read by a radiologist "in a timely fashion."

"We do not feel a whole-body scan is an appropriate screening tool for an asymptomatic patient," Vamvakias wrote, urging the medical board to investigate the clinic.

Haddad said the benefit of the scans is "peace of mind" and claims Cancer Check America "saved the lives of 18 people on Hilton Head" by uncovering calcium build-up in arteries that could have contributed to heart attacks and death. He said CT scans also uncovered treatable forms of cancer that would have gone unnoticed until it was "too late."

S.C. CHECK

Like Colorado, South Carolina requires doctor approval for such screenings, which Haddad said were performed by Advanced Imaging after being prescribed by Dr. Paul Long.

Long acknowledged prescribing the scans and said he did so because "I believe in the science, and it's great science."

Haddad said he was introduced to Long after moving to Hilton Head recently and talking to Long about Heart Check America.

"So we decided to do a pilot test" to gauge the potential for cancer screening on Hilton Head, Haddad said. The test indicated there are not enough people on the island to support a "full-blown" cancer screening company, he said.

Charles Ditmer, an official with the S.C. Bureau of Radiological Health, said Cancer Check America is not registered to perform medical scans in the state, but Advanced Imaging is registered and has approval from the state to operate a CT scanner. Advanced Imaging, though, had not registered its equipment with the state, Ditmer said. Registering would include submitting paperwork showing the equipment was properly installed, he said.

Haddad argues Cancer Check America does not have to register with South Carolina because it uses Advanced Imaging's equipment.

Advanced Imaging is operated by Atlantic Radiology Associates of Savannah. Kelly Emrick, CEO of Atlantic Radiology Associates, said the vendor of the equipment inspected it and filed the necessary paperwork.

Emrick added that Atlantic Radiology Associates has no control over Cancer Check America's operations and probably won't renew its three-month lease.

"We decided it does not fit with our business model," he said.

Ditmer said health officials will inspect next week whether screenings were conducted with approval from a licensed practitioner.

"If they are operating outside the scope of regulations, we will make sure they come into compliance or cease operations," he said.

CONSUMER COMPLAINTS

People have complained on consumer websites about Heart Check America pressuring them to pay thousands for a 10-year package of scans but never receiving a diagnosis or follow-up help.

Colorado Attorney General's Office spokesman Mike Saccone said the consumer protection division received a handful of complaints but has not launched an investigation.

One person who filed a complaint was Denver resident Troy Moore. Moore said he was offered free heart scans in May 2010.

"My family has a history of heart disease and I thought that sounded great and I had money in a health savings account," Moore said. "I signed up for the 10-year program and was charged $4,100 on the spot."

Moore said after months of persistent inquiries, he finally received a report. It said he was fine and included a CD of an image he "could not make heads or tails of." Then a story broke of the company's problems.

"Folks need to be very, very careful about making decisions without research. That's where I failed," he said.

Haddad said there was a delay in getting the Moore's images from Denver to a radiologist but that problem has been rectified.

"He was not beat out of money. He got scanned. It took a while to get him his reports," he said. "We haven't done anything wrong."

Haddad was sued by the Indiana Attorney General's Office in 2007, accused of fraudulently selling time-share condominiums. He was ordered to pay $373,652 in restitution and about $97,000 in penalties under a default judgment issued in March 2009 against a now-defunct firm that he owned and managed, according to court records.

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