After most of its locations across the nation closed in the last several months, AmeriScan has locked up its last two remaining centers. The shutdown comes barely a week after a lawsuit was announced in California charging the embattled whole-body screening firm with engaging in false advertising practices regarding its breast MR services.
CEO Dr. Craig Bittner announced the closures in a letter on the business's Web site:
"The medical establishment and health insurance systems are still focused on treating diseases instead of preventing them. Unfortunately, the controversy and criticisms over using advanced technology for health screening have been costly to my medical practice and I have been forced to close AmeriScan's doors."
The AmeriScan closure will not affect the status of the civil lawsuit, filed jointly by the California Medical Board and the San Francisco District Attorney's office, according to assistant D.A. June D. Cravett.
"Just because Dr. Bittner is no longer in business does not remedy past acts," Cravett said.
The lawsuit seeks restitution to victims who paid for breast MR, as well as penalties against Bittner of up to $2500 for each deceptive advertisement or unlawful business practice up to the time of the closures, Cravett said. In addition, the suit seeks a permanent injunction against Bittner from using the same claims in the future.
"The permanent injunction will follow him in any endeavor he would pursue," she said.
Bittner did not immediately return phone calls or e-mail requests for a comment.
"It's a complicated issue. Innovation is always fraught with risk and danger," said whole-body screening pioneer Dr. Harvey Eisenberg, medical director of HealthView Center for Preventive Medicine in Newport Beach, CA.
Eisenberg said it takes up to 20 years before a good innovation becomes accepted and reimbursed. In the face of today's technological boon, that pace is unacceptable, he said.
Bittner echoes this sentiment on his Web site, where he writes, "My only fault is to be the voice for medical science."
When Eisenberg gave Oprah Winfrey a whole-body scan on national television in 2000, it seemed that preventive medicine had entered a gilded age. The publicity helped fuel a CT scanning industry that exploded across the country.
But the souring economy and the lack of scientific evidence to support certain screening practices slowly took their toll on many centers, forcing them to close. Even Eisenberg, who had once boasted an eight-month backlog of customers, said the times are different.
"Our business has changed a lot, especially since this area has a scanning center on every street corner and since the airline industry has had such a downturn," he said.
But whole-body scanning is inevitable, Eisenberg said, and not just a passing opportunity for people to make money with their CT scanners.
For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging archives:
California sues AmeriScan over breast MR claims http://www.dimag.com/dinews/2003102701.shtml
More CT screening centers close doors http://www.dimag.com/dinews/2003101601.shtml
Clamor for breast MRI could be boon or boondoggle http://www.dimag.com/db_area/archives/2003/0309.breastimaging.di.shtml
MRI screening plan puts mammography in crosshairs http://www.dimag.com/db_area/archives/2002/0212.x-rayvision.di.shtml
Pioneering CT screening centers close doors http://www.dimag.com/db_area/onlinenews/2003/2003021101.shtml