Because of unsafe medical practices uncovered by investigators at two Las Vegas clinics, more that 50,000 colonoscopy patients may have been exposed to hepatitis C, hepatitis B, HIV or other blood-borne illnesses. So far, more than 850 former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center have tested positive for hepatitis C.
During the investigation, health authorities discovered that staff at the two clinics were commonly reusing medical equipment, including syringes, single-use medicine vials, biopsy forceps and the bite blocks used to hold open a patient's mouth during a colonoscopy.
Several staff members who were interview said that they were told to reuse medical equipment by the doctors who owned the Las Vegas clinics. These practices created a risk that an infection could be spread from one patient to another if any of these items became contaminated with the blood of an infected patient.
In addition, investigators discovered that doctors were sometimes performing two colonoscopy exams at the same time, and sometime completing the procedure in as little as two minutes. Experts say that a colonoscopy should take between 15 and 30 minutes, including six minutes alone just to withdraw the endoscope used to perform the exam from a patient's colon. When a colonoscopy is performed this quickly, doctors can miss the signs of serious conditions such as colon cancer which the exam is designed to catch.
Former co-workers say that Dr. Dipak Desai, the main owner of the Gastroenterology Center of Nevada, which oversaw the two clinics, frequently bragged about his "two-minute colonoscopy skills." Staff members say that he and other doctors at the Las Vegas clinics were responsible for the practice of re-using single use medical equipment.
In addition staff members say that they routinely over-billed patients for anesthesia times or ordered unnecessary biopsies in order to drive-up patient costs. Dr. Desai is currently being investigated on possible criminal charges for medical malpractice and insurance fraud.
Health officials have informed the public that anyone treated at either the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada or the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center between March 2004 and January 11, 2008 should visit their doctor in order to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. However, since several patients treated before these dates have already tested positive for hepatitis C, other patients who underwent a procedure may also wish to undergo blood tests in order to check for these diseases.
Several former patients of the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada and the Desert Shadow Endoscopy Center have filed lawsuits against Dr. Desai and the two Las Vegas clinics. These patients have alleged that in an attempt to boost profits at the facilities, Dr. Desai and other staff members engaged in unsafe medical practices which may have caused hundreds of patients to become infected with hepatitis C, and thousands more to be exposed to the disease.
Several patients who have not yet become ill but who may have been exposed to hepatitis C or another illness have also filed lawsuits alleging that they suffered emotional strain as a result of potentially becoming infected with a serious blood-borne illness.
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