Frank J. Amato, D.C., of Bellport, New York, has been disciplined for promoting unnecessary treatment to symptom-free patients. In December 2001, he was judged guilty of “unprofessional misconduct.” His license was suspended for two months; and he was fined $7,000 and placed on probation for two years. He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service amd complete 36 hours of an approved college-level course in ethics and jurisprudence. The licensing board’s summary states:
Licensee was found guilty of exerting undue influence on a patient for his own financial gain by placing pressure on the patient to bring family members into the office for examination, evaluation and treatment by him. Respondent was also found guilty of holding a “Patient of the Month” contest in which the patient who recommended the most new patients to the Respondent would win a color television set .
Public documents in the case provide a vivid account of what took place in Amato’s office. Here’s what the New York State Regents Review Committee concluded about what happened :
FINDINGS OF FACT
We unanimously determine that the first and second specifications of the charges have both been proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, and that respondent is guilty of both the first and second specifications of professional misconduct.
. . . The hearing panel finds Patient S,M, to be credible. Her testimony accurately described the key relevant events. Respondent is found to have exerted undue influence on this patient for his own financial gain. He exercised undue influence on S.M, by advising her that he could not continue to treat her without his also treating her family; and by further advising her that without chiropractic treatment her son’s health would be at risk.
This hearing panel finds respondent’s testimony to be incredible. Respondent was acting for his own financial benefit in placing pressure on S.M. to bring her son into the office for examination by him. He sought to gain financially by bringing P.M. into the practice as a new patient and by maximizing the number of patients he could bring into this practice.
Respondent attempted to overcome S.M. and her family’s choice regarding whether they would seek professional services from him. The record demonstrates that respondent became obsessed with financial considerations beyond those appropriate in treating patient S.M. Contrary to his clams, respondent was not focusing solely upon his patient’s interests. Respondent persisted in pressing his concerns on S.M., even though, as he testified, he had not determined, in the absence of x-rays and a full examination of P.M., whether P.M. should be treated as a chiropractic patient in his office. It was unprofessional for respondent to constantly apply pressure on S.M. against her wishes in order to pursue his gaining new patients.
Moreover, respondent acted inappropriately in suggesting to P.M. that he could run faster, jump higher, and hit a ball further if he would talk to his mother about his receiving chiropractic treatment from respondent. The questions respondent deliberately directed to this nine year-old boy needlessly upset him and caused distress.
Many chiropractors still cling to the belief that most health problems are caused by misaligned spinal bones (“subluxations”) that can be corrected by spinal “adjustments.” Although the disciplinary documents do not mention the word “subluxation,” Amato appears to advocate that every spine should be checked and “adjusted” throughout life. The World Chiropractic Alliance (WCA), which is “dedicated to promoting a subluxation-free world,” has sharply criticized the New York licensing authorities and issued a position paper stating:
Chiropractic care to detect and correct vertebral subluxations offers benefits for all people, including those who do not demonstrate symptoms of a disease or health condition. Therefore, the presence of symptoms and/or a medical diagnosis should not be a factor in determining the need for or appropriateness of chiropractic adjustments, nor should the presence of symptoms be required by any chiropractic board, insurance company or court of law to justify the rendering of chiropractic care to any patient .
The paper claims that checking for “subluxations” is analogous to periodic dental and blood-pressure check-ups. However, blood pressure and tooth decay can be objectively demonstrated, but the subluxations to which WCA refers can not .
According to a WCA report, Amato is appealing the action in court . Do you think he will succeed?
- New York State Education Department Office of the Professions. Summaries of Regents Actions on Professional Misconduct and Discipline, December 20, 2001.
- Cohen SB and others. Report of the Regents Review Committee in the matter of the disciplinary proceeding against Frank J. Amato. No. 18075, Nov 8, 2001.
- Position paper on chiropractic for asymptomatic patients. World Chiropractic Alliance, May 15, 2002.
- Barrett S. Chiropractic’s elusive “subluxation.” Chirobase, Dec 25, 2001.
- N.Y. doctor censured for pushing family care. The Chiropractic Journal, April 2002.
This article was posted on June 19, 2002.