US joins nurse's whistleblower complaint alleging Georgia heart surgeon was incompetent

by Ben Vernia | April 6th, 2010

On April 5, the Department of Justice announced it was intervening in a qui tam in the Southern District of Georgia, which alleges that Dr. Najam Azmat was incompetent to perform cardiac surgical procedures which were billed to Medicare and Medicaid, and that Satilla Regional Medical Center placed him on staff despite red flags regarding his competence. The relator and government claim that one patient died as a result. According to the Department’s press release:

Specifically, the complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendants submitted claims for medical procedures performed by Dr. Azmat in Satilla’s Heart Center that the physician was neither qualified nor properly credentialed to perform. As a result, at least one patient died and others were seriously injured.

The complaint states that Satilla placed Dr. Azmat on staff even after learning that the hospital where he previously worked had restricted his privileges as a result of a high complication rate on his surgical procedures. The complaint also states that after Dr. Azmat joined the Satilla staff, the hospital management allowed him to perform endovascular procedures in the hospital’s Heart Center even though he lacked experience in performing such procedures and did not have privileges to perform them. Endovascular procedures are complex medical procedures that are performed within arteries and veins accessed by a puncture site in the skin and require specialized training.

According to the complaint, at least one of Dr. Azmat’s endovascular patients died as a result of his lack of training and competence. The complaint alleges that Dr. Azmat perforated the patient’s renal artery, causing her to bleed to death. Dr. Azmat allegedly did not even recognize that he had perforated the patient’s artery and failed to take appropriate action to address the complication.

The complaint further states that the nurses in Satilla’s Heart Center recognized that Dr. Azmat was incompetent to perform endovascular procedures and repeatedly raised concerns with hospital management. Despite the nurse’s complaints and Dr. Azmat’s high complication rate, Satilla’s management continued to allow him to perform endovascular procedures and to bill federal health care programs for these services.

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