A new way patients may get money back from stem cell clinics

patients get money back
Can patients get money back from stem cell clinics? Image labeled for reuse.
patients get money back
Can patients get money back from stem cell clinics? Image of movie prop money labeled for reuse by Google on the web.

Let’s face it, there are loads of stem cell clinics looking for patients/customers. I think most are taking advantage of patients and some of these are just rotten.

Admittedly there are hundreds of clinics that aren’t that bad. They also might be FDA compliant. However, they still are selling stem cells that aren’t really proven to work or be 100% safe. That’s still a problem in my view.

So what’s a really unhappy patient/customer to do after the fact?

What if you either had a bad outcome and/or you feel like you got ripped off?

Maybe it turns out you went to one of the worst of the worst clinics, something you only realized after the fact.

From what patients tell me, it can feel like there’s nothing that can be done. However, actually there are many things you try. In fact, I have a whole page of relatively simple ways to take potentially positive actions including reporting bad clinics to your state medical board.

While some of the stem cells or claims about them out there aren’t real, the money you lost was, right?

So more practically speaking, what about getting your money back?

No, the clinics won’t happily refund your money.

But an amazingly simple idea someone suggested to me is to take the clinics or their operators to small claims court. For a good fraction of patients the amount they lost at a stem cell clinic makes them eligible for a small claims court suit.

I bet that in many cases the clinics won’t even show up and you’ll win by default. If they do show up, they’ll have some explaining to do to the small claims court judge. My impression is that these judges don’t like BS. They’ll perhaps be sympathetic to people who lost their money on unproven stem cells. If you bring documentation of over-the-top claims by clinics that could help.

The bottom line is that it’s reasonably possible that quite a few patients will win these suits and get at least some money back.

The cases can also literally only take minutes in court. In many states the clinic or its operator won’t be allowed to have a lawyer with them to fight the case in court. That should make it less intimidating.

While it seems like more patients are suing clinics for damages due to alleged or even documented bad outcomes, those suits are fairly complicated affairs. The small claims court route may just be the ticket for certain patients who want their money back from clinics, but with relatively little court drama.

This summary of small claims court here in California sure makes it seem like a reasonable route for patients who are unhappy with clinics. While rules vary by state, here in California if you win you can collect up to $10,000 back from a clinic. Coincidentally this just about what most people pay for a stem cell “treatment”.

If the clinic uses a supplier of allogeneic perinatal “stem cells”, you might even be able to sue the supplier in small claims court. Again, I bet most of the time they won’t even show up so you’ll win. Same goes for chiropractors who facilitated you getting an injection by a physician.

Of course, even though an attorney is not allowed in small claims court in many states, you still definitely want to chat with one at least briefly before filing your case. My sense is that probably this small claims route is only appropriate in cases where something went concretely wrong or there was documented hype by the unproven clinic or supplier in terms of the claims made.

Disclaimer: this post is not legal advice. I’m not an attorney. Talk to your attorney!

15 Comments

  1. I agree with much of what you blog on however, there are NO money back guarantees in medicine or surgery. We don’t operate or take care of patients on a contingency basis. I do NO surgeries that are 100% effective and many of the orthopedic surgeries I do have “success” rates in the 80% range…. does that make them “proven”? The orthobiologics I use are Platelet Rich Plasma and Bone Marrow Concentrate (a source of MSCs)…both of which have many many orthopedic uses documented over the past 30 years. I wholeheartedly agree with warning patients about not being scammed with the “stem cell out of a bottle” claims of “clinics” that profit off of people who are scared and in pain. The idea that a small claims court judge will rule on the medical claims of a stem cell clinic is interesting and I would love to see that be tested…especially since the legislative branch still hasn’t defined terms adequately in Texas (where I am) for example.

    • Hi Don,
      There may be no money back guarantees in medicine, but hundreds of clinics way way oversell their stem cell services, particularly the fat and perinatal ones. They may also make deceptive claims about the product such as that it is “stem cells” when it’s really dead material or non-stem cells.

      I could see hundreds of patients at least trying this route. Many of them really need their money back from what I’ve heard and seen.

      In numerous cases there was probably no chance the “service” in question really could help them.

      Since small claims court judges are typically attorneys working to plow through many cases, I’d bet that a good percentage of patients may prevail based on common sense, especially if they bring a print out of a hard sell or oversold service. Maybe even print out a copy of some useful pages from this blog.

      Customers may also prevail again also either because the clinic doctor, chiropractor, etc. won’t show (no attorney allowed in their place) or the iffy supplier won’t show, etc.

  2. Paul, you are very interesting, I am disturbed by your post, as a physician of 30+ years, I find this post particularly disturbing. Let me ask you; do you know what the success rates are for surgical procedures? answer about 70% even with the best surgeons; What the frequency of post op complications are? around 15-20%; What about pharmaceuticals ? does a prescription for an antibiotic always work? No. Does it have an negative and potentially life threatening risk to the microbiome, your hearing, your liver or kidneys or like Cipro affecting a patients tendons? YES
    Should every patient that has a poor outcome from surgery or have a reaction to a medication ask for a refund? What in medicine has a 100% success rate?

    Why are you so negative? you only point out the failures in regenerative therapies but never the successes. Are you jealous that you didn’t go to medical school or that you didn’t invent some of the treatments? You seem to get joy out of the failures. Maybe we should start a blog about PhD’s that have falsified their research. Seriously, medicine has grown and learned from its failures as well as its successes, nothing in our world is 100% other than death and taxes. Maybe you should open your mind to greater possibilities……..

    • There are many unhappy patients out there who went to stem cell clinics and a steady stream of them contact me. That may be “negative” but it’s reality.
      Their experiences are vastly different than going to a physician at a standard place of care founded on science-based medicine.
      Someone needs to advocate for these patients and help others avoid getting into these bad situations in the first place in the future.

    • Bruce,

      Small molecule pharmaceuticals have been tested in FDA-regulated clinical trials, so we know as much as possible about the side effects. They are disclosed.

      Stem cells are also drugs, because of the way in which they are used in these clinics, and they are subject to FDA regulation. There is no warning, no disclosure of side effects, for the stem cell clinics.

      Yes, PhDs do commit fraud, but MDs do too, like Piero Anversa and his alleged heart stem cells, Paolo Macchiarini and the artificial trachea. Those examples are more horrifying, because they actually harmed people.

  3. It’s great news any time doctors are held accountable for injuring OR for failing to inform patients of the most accurate information about their procedures – be it potential RISKS or BENEFITS.

    From Drexel University:
    The debate over medical liability is noisy, discordant, and riddled with false claims. Reform proposals have typically aimed to reduce lawyers’ incentives to sue by capping noneconomic damages, reducing contingency fees, or making the case more expensive to try. Physicians and the public have been fed a drumbeat of misinformation about “frivolous” litigation, which seems to mean any lawsuit against a doctor. Patients, having progressively lost access to lawyers and to full damage recovery, are forced to consider alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that offer significantly less money in forums that can often be controlled and gamed by repeat players—insurers, hospitals, or managed care organizations. Insurers support any kind of reform, particularly damage caps that reduce their exposure to claims. Politicians use the extreme outlier cases to propagandize and overstate the need for reforms, then offer up reforms that reduce the power of the trial bar. Politicians then wave the banner of cost savings that are never convincingly established. And practitioners of popular behavioral economics toy with the merits of patient waivers of their right to sue as an “efficient” approach to claims for medical injuries. https://drexel.edu/law/lawreview/issues/Archives/v4-1/furrow/

    From Harvard:
    About 1:180 procedures results in the death of patient (1/25 procedures resulted in adverse events, which resulted in death 14% of the time). This is in 1984, but there is no indication things have gotten better. https://www.thedoctors.com/articles/an-epidemic-of-medical-malpractice-a-commentary-on-the-harvard-medical-practice-study/

  4. Strong points Brad ! In fact, standard medical treatment complications represent the #3 cause of death in America according to NIH reports including their report “To Err is Human”. JAMA recently highlighted the 40th Anniversary of “House of God”. The interview with the authors and the physicians who were basis of the characters in the book is very interesting especially regarding the (Lack of) Ethics by doctors practicing standard of care medicine.
    Everyone likes to tell patients about their “outcomes”. It amazing how often physicians have an “80 %success rate”. Where is THEIR actual data. Requiring each clinician to collect data in and INDEPENDENT national database registry with everyone’s outcomes clearly posted for patients would help clear the air….

  5. mine is not from a procedure , synthroid caused kidney failure and dian
    betes
    and so much more . I need stem cells to correct all this , without surgery .western medicine is the worst . I was healthy until this horrible medicine.tried a stem cell clinic but their charges are all over the place.

  6. the clinic said several charges and none of them the same. I believe I. stem cells but the charges are ridiculous. the dr. doesnt even know I didn’t use my own so that procedure should not be being charged for and so it is Wirth great alarm that the fda hasn’t gone to regulate charges and come up with a standard. this was done on a drug synrhroid and some of these medications are horrible.what is uc Davi going to do when the center alpha clinic opens this year , just want know t what what I’m to do and what will jeavailable soon?

    • audreysanfilippo, FDA does not regulate the pricing of drugs (that´s a negotiation between health insurers and the pharma companies). FDA regulates the approval to market a drug based on evidence of safety and efficacy, as well as the approval to carry out clinical trials to obtain such data.

      If you take synthroid for a thyroid deficiency then stem cells will not be of benefit and are dangerous, as there is no evidence for safety or benefit in thyroid deficient patients. There is work going on to create thyroid tissue from stem cells for transplantation, but this is worlds away from injecting naked adipose-derived stem cells (i.e. SVF), which has never been shown to produce a measurable physical benefit in any disease and is only a cash cow for unsolicited tricksters.

      • I didn’t make myself clear, the harm synthroid did is immeasurable to my health, I didn’t need it and I have an adrenal problem and this doctor didn’t treat it and I ended up with diabetes and kidney problems. thats what some of these drugs can do .so thats what I need treatment for.i was completely healthy before this dr. ut me on synthroid. years ago. just wondering with jan blog about the stem cell alpha climic will do and be open sometime this year, western medicine can kill you as stated right on the synthroid warnings if you have an adrenal problem it can cause death if not treated.

  7. Anyone with half a brain knows this is new technology with no absolute proven track record! If we can sue for this, we sure as heck can sue all the regular docs for their screw ups!

  8. Audrey,
    Looks like you may have missed Paul’s article on ipscell.com. This will help you immensely!

    https://ipscell.com/2019/06/muddy-waters-stem-cell-clinic-calls-itself-cirm-docuseries-sparks-controversy/

    Paul covers the outrageous claims made by some of these clinics and how they intentionally deceive people who are looking for help, especially vulnerable adults that may not be either scientists or physicians.
    My family was deliberately mislead and their sales pitch was exactly like the one in Paul’s article.
    We all now have even more complications as a result of receiving this purported “ stem cell therapy,” that turns out was intended for research purposes only and not even intended for therapeutic use in humans. It is one of the 361 FDA Registered only amniotic and cord blood products like Paul’s article mentions.
    Now, our Florida Department of Health is recommending that people who were injected with this product be tested for at least 8 communicable diseases from HIV to Zika.
    One of our family members almost died from a gut rupture requiring emergency surgery, an amputation and a pacemaker. He also has diabetes. He received 2 IVs of the purported “stem cell therapy.”
    We have other complications as well and want to help people so we created a website to help others called avoidthestemcellscam.com.
    These unscrupulous DCs and MDs target the most damaged and hopeless people that they can find. It is part of their strategy because it is easy money and most will not know it is a scam or even possibly live to tell their story. Unfortunately, the legal system does not value the life of older or vulnerable adults as much as we might value our own.
    Read this article by Paul, now!

    https://ipscell.com/2019/06/muddy-waters-stem-cell-clinic-calls-itself-cirm-docuseries-sparks-controversy/

  9. Paul:

    I’m a medical malpractice attorney licensed in Texas and Colorado. I appreciate your efforts to call out the bogus use of stem cell therapy. I’m looking a fairly obvious case right now where there was no chance the patient’s condition could be addressed with stem cell therapy – surgery was the only reasonable treatment. But yet, information appears to have been withheld from the patient in hopes of getting him to spend money on a hopeless treatment.

    That said, people need to be very careful about taking the approach you have suggested or they could end up owing the defendant attorney’s fees far in excess of what they are trying to recover. In the two jurisdictions where I practice, such a suit would likely be considered a medical malpractice claim under the law and certain requirements would have to met in terms of expert testimony and proof that the stem cell therapy was in fact an unreasonable treatment under the circumstances. The failure to provide that testimony and proof would result in a dismissal and a potential obligation to pay for the defendant’s attorneys fees and expenses. I understand the frustration many people have with the difficulty of finding a lawyer to address claims like this where there is, relatively speaking, not a lot of money at stake and I wish there was a more efficient route for addressing those claims. But someone taking the small claims court route could find themselves in a much worse place than they started.

    The other concern I have is that not every stem cell treatment is bogus. While it is clear that there is mounting evidence of fraudulent activity by stem cell clinics, there are also extremely reputable orthopedic and other clinics that offer stem cell therapy for specific applications where there is scientific support for its use. In some instances I would be concerned about a lay person deciding that just because the treatment didn’t work, it is automatically a fraud, malpractice or the like and then choosing to pursue a case in the manner you have suggested.

    Bottom line, better to talk to an attorney. Most of them will give you a free consult.

    • @Chris,
      Thanks for this perspective and information.

      I did indicate in the post that people should talk to an attorney before considering this route and that only certain cases would be a reasonable idea to pursue this way. Also, they should have some kind of documentation of the apparent false or hyped marketing claims or other concrete problems. Without that then probably not worth considering.

      Certain state’s small claims systems may be more amenable to this or conversely confer greater risks to patients who might go this route.

      Yes, not every stem cell clinic injection is “bogus” to use your word, but on the other hand few fall into the really proven zone in terms of having solid unbiased data on safety and efficacy from trials with at least some controls. Also, many clinics are using stem cells (or things they call “stem cells” but aren’t really stem cells) for medical conditions that don’t make any sense too. Sometimes the doctor involved is working with patients outside their area of speciality. Sometimes the person doing the injection is not even a doctor. The list goes on.

      Also, I feel that if a clinic is injecting stem cells that are now clearly unapproved drugs (e.g. fat stem cells or SVF based on the FL case won by the FDA) then patients might have a stronger case that boils down to something like, “You greatly exaggerated my chance of being helped plus you should have known it wasn’t even clearly legal to inject me with this and I paid you 10 grand!”

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