AmeriScan shuts down operation with closure of remaining centers

November 12, 2003

California hauls imaging company into courtAmeriScan's two remaining imaging centers-one in San Jose, CA, the other in Glendale, AZ-are closed. AmeriScan CEO Dr. Craig Bittner announced the closures in a letter on AmeriScan's Web

California hauls imaging company into court

AmeriScan's two remaining imaging centers-one in San Jose, CA, the other in Glendale, AZ-are closed. AmeriScan CEO Dr. Craig Bittner announced the closures in a letter on AmeriScan'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 whole-body screening company, which once had some 20 imaging facilities across the U.S. and boasted of plans to add hundreds more, now must concentrate on fending off lawsuits.

The state of California and the California Medical Board filed suit Oct. 26 accusing the company of making false statements in advertisements for its breast MR screening services. The joint filing seeks a permanent injunction against such claims, penalties of up to $2500 for each false advertisement disseminated in California, and restitution to women who believe they were misled.

The San Francisco district attorney's office and the California Medical Board had been separately investigating Bittner for several months. They joined forces after learning of their common pursuit, according to assistant D.A. June D. Cravett.

"We did not file suit without first attempting informally to get Dr. Bittner to change his advertising," Cravett said. "He was unwilling to do that, even after being contacted by my office and the California Medical Board."

Bittner could not be reached for comment.

AmeriScan had offered MRI as a screening test for women in the general population. It claimed, among other things, that the test was nearly 100% accurate, was recognized as the best method for early detection, and could be used to differentiate with nearly 100% accuracy between benign and malignant lesions, according to the complaint.

"There is absolutely no published peer-reviewed scientific literature that supports the use of MRI for general screening," Cravett said.

The complaint also cited as false and misleading claims made by Bittner about the ineffectiveness of conventional mammography-that it misses two out of three breast cancers; misses more breast cancer than it finds; and will mistake benign tissue as possible cancer in four out of five cases, leading to over 500,000 unnecessary biopsies every year.

Neither Cravett nor Candis Cohen, information officer for the California Medical Board, would say whether the investigation was sparked by specific complaints from the public. But Cohen said that the mission of the medical board is to protect the consumer.

"Women who need early diagnostic protection may be at risk by not getting the most appropriate test, and that is a mammogram, not an MRI," she said. "By filing this suit, we found the most aggressive and efficient way to attempt to compel Dr. Bittner and AmeriScan to stop their false and misleading advertising."

Despite the spate of center closings, the D.A.'s office is concerned with Bittner's recent attempts to sell franchises. The AmeriScan business model is based on false and misleading information to get customers in the door, Cravett said.

"To the extent that Bittner is going to be reinventing his company as a franchise business, we want to make sure there is a permanent injunction in place to prevent this type of advertising from being a part of that business model," she said.

The American College of Radiology has supported the investigation by California officials by supplying names of eminent breast imagers, according to ACR general counsel William F. Shields. The San Francisco D.A.'s office has relied on these experts and others in putting the case together, Cravett said.

The ACR in August filed a similar complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over AmeriScan's misleading advertising, Shields said.

On his Web site, Bittner maintained that his actions were aboveboard.

"My only fault is to be the voice for medical science," he wrote.