Heart Check America gets sued over CT scan sales tactics

June 27, 2011
by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor
Illinois officials are suing the people behind Heart Check America, a national imaging chain, over alleged dubious marketing practices for heart CT scans.

The state accuses the business of using "high-pressure sales" tactics to convince customers to sign up for 10-year packages of scans that cost up to $7,000 -- scans that might not be medically necessary.

The suit comes only a month after a Denver office of the group was closed following complaints it performed CT scans on patients without doctors referrals, and even without a licensed physician's supervision. Another office in Nevada has also been cited by local officials.

On Thursday, the Illinois attorney general's office filed a complaint against Sheila Haddad, the owner of Heart Check America, and her son David, the manager.

The lawsuit accuses the company of using misleading pitches for scans by wrongly claiming that early detection always leads to better outcomes; not having medically trained personnel sell the scans and not having doctors evaluate patients before the scans; failing to inform consumers of the risks from the procedures, such as exposure to ionizing radiation; and performing tests that brought back inaccurate results, resulting in costly follow-up scans.

The attorney general's office said it has received 25 complaints since June of last year, according to the suit. In one complaint from a customer and ex-Heart Check America employee named in the suit, a woman claims to have paid $3,000 for scans without ever receiving their results, according to a report.

The suit follows an article published in The Las Vegas Sun earlier this month written by an investigative reporter with ProPublica, who looked into the company after happening to receive a telemarketing call about the scans.

According to ProPublica, the pitch from a salesman with the Tinley, Park, Ill.-based company involved telling potential customers that their electron beam tomography machines -- a type of CT scanner -- could help detect calcium build-up in the arteries, a sign of heart disease. But the report said many doctors warned there was little evidence the benefits of performing the scans on healthy patients, such as nonsmokers under 40, outweighed the risks.

In the suit, the attorney general's office is asking for up to $50,000 in civil penalties per violation, if the court finds an intent to defraud, and restitution for customers. It also hopes to shut down the company's activities.