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Trial Witness Says HMO Knew a Lot about Desai’s M. O.

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Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

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Las Vegas CBS KXNT – Two factors should have led Health Plan of Nevada to know that Dr. Dipak Desai was cavalier about patient safety, according to the plaintiff’s lawyer in a civil lawsuit. The speed of Desai’s endoscopic procedures, and the fact that he performed them more-or-less under the noses of HPN employees.

The case is brought by former patients of Desai who were infected in 2005 with the Hepatitis C virus, and claim HPN should have known enough about Desai’s clinical methods to keep him off their provider list.

Attorney Robert Eglet put a former operating room technician on the witness stand Tuesday, attempting to establish what the insurance company knew, and when.

Melvin Hawkins testified that he worked for eight years at the Southwest Medical Associates clinic owned by HPN, where he assisted Desai with colonoscopies. Hawkins told the jury Desai was known for scheduling up to 20 colonsocopy patients into a three-hour period.

Eglet did math for the jury — concluding Desai performed a colonoscopy every nine minutes, when the accepted standard is 30 minutes for each procedure. He said the clinic director at Southwest Medical Associates, who was also a vice president at HPN, became concerned.

“It was at that point that Dr. (Steven) Evans said no, you can’t go past 20 (patients),” Eglet said. “But Dr. Desai wanted to increase it even more.”

The witness testified that Desai began with 12 patients each 3-hour afternoon session, and pushed the pace until he had 17, and then 20. He said other personnel at the Southwest clinic refused to work with Desai because of the pace he kept, which left no time for properly cleaning the equipment, and gave patients less recovery time than they needed after the procedures.

Tuesday’s testimony was intended to establish that HPN exeuctives were aware for nearly a decade before the hepatitis ourbreak at Desai’s own clinic that he routinely deviated from best practices.

HPN spokesman Tyler Mason says the company was unaware of any problems related to Desai’s practices until a Hepatitis C outbreak was traced in 2007 to the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada, where Desai practiced and was a part owner. Desai is criminally charged for the practices that spread the virus, and the death of one former patient.

“When it was brought to our attention, we acted quickly to end our relationship with him,” Mason said.

HPN has maintained that it’s strictly Desai’s wrongdoing that caused patient infections. The company has no way of monitoring patient care in the procedure room because of privacy laws and other practical considerations, its spokesmen have said.

Mason told KXNT the lawsuit suggests that insurers would need to place an auditor in every room for every patient procedure, which would radically alter the cost and the delivery of health care.

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