How do dubious stem cell clinics get patients in the door to make money?
In part they do this via the Internet via the clinics’ own websites.
There are also patient websites, some secret, which may serve ad recruitment tools for specific clinics.
A more general tactic may be the use of so-called “recruiter-patients”.
There is an interesting article from 2011 on this practice in India: Recruiter-patients as ambiguous symbols of health: bionetworking and stem cell therapy in India .
What is a recruiter-patient?
A recruiter-patient is a patient of a specific, for-profit stem cell clinic who is used by the clinic to recruit more patients.
In exchange the recruiter-patient (most often secretly) receives either cash or discounted future treatments for themselves or family members. Apparently, some recruiter-patients recruit for specific clinics, while others push for many clinics.
A similar category of stem cell trickster is the stem cell facilitator, who makes money by directing patients to specific clinics through hype, while not necessarily pretending to be a patient.
The article indicates that this practice is common in India amongst stem cell clinics.
How common is this practice in the US?
Of course it is difficult to know because clinics and recruiter-patients hide what they are doing. Why? It is a form of fraud, potentially something that even could be criminally prosecuted.
However, from talking with stem cell clinic patients who received treatments here in the US, it is clear that the practice does occur in the US.
In India, recruiter-patients work for both adult stem cell and embryonic stem cell clinics.
At other times, it is unclear whether a patient who advocates for a clinic is actually a recruiter-patient or simply a very enthusiastic customer who wants to “spread the word”.
In the article on India, they express serious concerns about this practice:
It is difficult to determine whether such testimonials genuinely portray patients’ experiences of improvement in their medical condition and gratitude towards service providers. But there is no doubt that such testimonials are compelling in nature and content. Stem cell providers, then, exploit the symbolism of “cured patients” to attract new patients. Although it is not clear if “the cured patient” is a grateful patient, or a person paid to act as one, the symbolism of “the cured patient” is crucial to the connection between all involved.”
I think patients have an ethical duty to each other and to potential future patients to not over-sell clinic treatments, especially not in return for secret kickbacks or some other compensation.