Welcome to Florida: Rick Scott Woos Cancer Treatment Business Accused of "Quackery"
So it's all good now, right? Or not. According to a recent investigation by Reuters, CTCA has a new way of tweaking its stats on survival rates, which it claims are significantly better than national averages. Reuters reported:
Such claims are misleading, according to nine experts in cancer and medical statistics whom Reuters asked to review CTCA's survival numbers and its statistical methodology.
The experts were unanimous that CTCA's patients are different from the patients the company compares them to, in a way that skews their survival data. It has relatively few elderly patients, even though cancer is a disease of the aged. It has almost none who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid -- patients who tend to die sooner if they develop cancer and who are comparatively numerous in national statistics.
Carolyn Holmes, a former CTCA oncology information specialist in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said she and others routinely tried to turn away people who "were the wrong demographic" because they were less likely to have an insurance policy that CTCA preferred. Holmes said she would try to "let those people down easy."
Equally significant, CTCA includes in its outcomes data only those patients "who received treatment at CTCA for the duration of their illness" -- patients who have the ability to travel to CTCA locations from the get-go, without seeking local treatment first. That means excluding, for example, those who have exhausted treatment options closer to home and arrive at a CTCA facility with advanced disease.
Accepting only selected patients and calculating survival outcomes from only some of them "is a huge bias and gives an enormous advantage to CTCA," said biostatistician Donald Berry of MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The company defends its practices. Spokeswoman Pamela Browner White said CTCA's survival data are in "no way misleading, nor do they deviate from best practices in statistical collection and analysis."
In addition to the allegations of deceptive marketing, charges of quackery haunt CTCA like a duck pond.
Surgical oncologist and cancer researcher Dr. David Gorski last fall in a "recap and update" on "the nonsensical therapies that CTCA provides" called the company "the very epitome of 'integrative medicine'" that "integrates pseudoscience and quackery with real medicine."
Charitably, Gorski concluded that "tragically," CTCA chief Stephenson:
confused "holistic" care with an openness to quackery like naturopathy and incorporated such quackery into CTCA right from the beginning, "integrating" it with standard, even state-of-the-art, conventional cancer care to the point where you can't always tell where the science ends and the quackery begins.
Cancer patients are facing some of the most difficult decisions in their lives, often while suffering through painful treatments, not to mention the fear that their cancer will kill them. When a cancer hospital offers an "integrative" treatment with the promise that it may help, the patient is highly likely to try it, regardless of the cost. These are extremely vulnerable patients, and CTCA is taking advantage of them to sell ineffective therapies. CTCA and its owners, including Richard Stephenson, are profiting from their unsuspecting patients.
(Cancer patients and their families and caretakers are well-advised to consider the informative survey of "questionable cancer therapies" provided by Dr. Stephen Barrett's invaluable Quackwatch website. Alternative medicine may have a role to play but demands as much skepticism as any other form of medicine.)
A tantalizing enigma in the CTCA story concerns Lynette Bisconti, a former company executive who was sued by CTCA for extortion and later sued them for a variety of frauds.
As CTCA's case against Bisconti was reported last February in Modern Healthcare:
Ms. Bisconti was placed on paid leave on Sept. 24  after she told [CTCA CEO] Stephenson that she would "sing like a bird to the newspapers, radio and television" with false accusations about the company if he didn't pay her millions of dollars, the lawsuit alleges. Within hours of being placed on leave, Ms. Bisconti accessed more than 200 confidential documents and materials, the lawsuit alleges. She was fired on Dec. 31, the lawsuit says.
Court records show the extortion case was decided in CTCA's favor in May 2013. But the case was re-opened in December, exhibits were impounded and case information sealed.