Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Lawsuit targets U.S. chiropractor group

From the AP Biz Wire

Friday, February 25, 2005 ยท Last updated 4:59 p.m. PT

Lawsuit targets U.S. chiropractor group


DES MOINES, Iowa -- A woman and her 17-year-old son are suing an Iowa chiropractor and the professional group to which he belongs, claiming it trains its members to unethically put profits over patients.

Heidi Brown and her son, Trevor Rhiner, are asking a state judge to grant class-action status to the lawsuit, which names Waukee, Iowa, chiropractor Paul Kerkhoff and a New York-based organization called The Masters Circle, as well as its top executives.

The lawsuit claims The Masters Circle - through newsletters, seminars and coaches - trains member chiropractors in high-pressure sales tactics, persuading patients to get unnecessary treatments to boost profits.

According to the lawsuit, filed this week in Dallas County, Brown and her son "wrongly assumed ... their chiropractor would strive to put the patient's best interest ahead of the doctor's personal interest."

The Masters Circle describes itself on its Web site as a professional program aimed at chiropractors serious about achieving success. The organization offers products and services to members who pay as much as $650 per month.

Its owners include Larry Markson, Bob Hoffman and Dennis Perman, all of whom were named as defendants in the Iowa lawsuit. The Web site claims Markson has counseled more than 10,000 chiropractors worldwide in the last 23 years.

A spokeswoman for the organization, founded 26 years ago, said she was unaware of the lawsuit.

"We have nothing to say on the subject," she said.

The attempt to achieve class-action status emerged from a 2003 lawsuit filed by Brown and her son accusing Kerkhoff of fraud, malpractice and negligent misrepresentation.

After her son complained of back pain and numbness in his leg, Brown made an appointment at Kerkhoff's office, based on a referral. After a series of tests and X-rays, Kerkhoff diagnosed Rhiner with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, said he was likely to develop severe arthritis in his early 20s and should refrain from playing sports to avoid risk of serious injury.

During the visit, Brown said Kerkhoff and his staff tried to sell a year's worth of treatments, offered discounts if paid in cash up front and said the care was necessary, given the serious nature of the case.

Brown said her son underwent several treatments and began to feel better, but she became frustrated with Kerkhoff when he put Rhiner in traction during one of the visits, a therapy Brown said she opposed.

Skeptical of the Kerkhoff's diagnosis, Brown took her son to an orthopedic surgeon, who disputed Kerkhoff's claims and declared Rhiner healthy. Moreover, Brown was advised by the surgeon that traction for a growing teenager was unhealthy.

"I was outraged as a mom that he (Kerkhoff) would have put my son through a year's worth of unnecessary treatments, but, being a mom, how did I know at the time?" Brown told The Associated Press on Friday.

It was during the pretrial phase of the lawsuit that Brown and her attorney, Kim Baer, learned about The Masters Circle.

In depositions, Kerkhoff said he used techniques from The Masters Circle to "target, leverage and close" the sale of services to Brown and followed Masters Circle guidelines in requiring full back X-rays for all patients.

The lawsuit claims such techniques are nothing more than a way to boost profits and are a breach of the doctor/patient relationship.

It cites Masters Circle literature encouraging chiropractors to sign up patients for a minimum of 12 visits and to refrain from re-evaluating health problems until after the 12th visit.

"We certainly are not suing all chiropractors, because there are good ones out there ..." said Baer, an attorney in Des Moines. "We're only after those who are members of The Masters Circle."

Baer said she expects the judge to consider the class-action status later this spring.


On the Net: Masters Circle: