It made for a cute story when "Catch Me if You Can" came out in 2002 starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie was based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who successfully performed a series of cons including posing as a phony Georgia doctor. "Catch Me if You Can" has gone on to become a successful Broadway musical. However, in reality it is not so entertaining to discover a doctor is a fake.
Light rock station Mix 92.9 in Nashville featured a trivia question on Feb. 26 regarding the profession in which one out of 50 professionals was a phony. The answer was doctors. While I was not able to completely verify this statistic on Google or by calling the radio station, I did find an article from the Jan 2, 1989 Schenectady Gazette which stated "one in 50 doctors have obtained jobs based on fraudulent credentials purchased from a thriving diploma mill." Another article in the Sep 13, 1987 The Telegraph stated that "experts estimate that one of every 50 physicians practicing in the United States is doing so with bogus or questionable credentials."
So, were fake physicians just a problem in the 1980s?
While I could not find the one-doctor-out-of-50-is-a-fake quote in a recent online article, current entries featured post after post about the problem with fake doctors treating the elderly, taking advantage of the disabled, scamming patients and hospitals, and phony dermatologists injecting toxic substances into lips, foreheads and buttocks.
Often these fake doctors set up scam websites with false credentials where they sell their own salves and ointments that promise to cure everything from skin cancer to HIV as was the case with this California phony doctor. A Georgia man took advantage of up to 500 seniors while posing as a doctor. Nevada is another state which has faced a series of deaths and arrests from unlicensed physicians giving dangerous, sometimes deadly treatments.
The Huffington Post has a page full of Fake Doctor stories, listing everything from an Australian teen arrested for dispensing meds while impersonating a doctor; a San Francisco man who posed as a cosmetic surgeon and administered a series of bizarre medical treatments; and a Florida man who went door-to-door as a doctor offering free breast exams.
Many times the phony doctors claim to have been licensed in another country. Other times they have purchased credentials online or stolen them from friends. In other cases, they appear to simply claim to be a physician including one Detroit "doctor" who had a hospital fooled for 15 years.
Since it is apparently very easy for fake doctors to steal, copy or buy credentials, the burden falls on hospitals and medical centers to do extremely thorough background checks on anyone applying for a job and to check and to double check credentials. Patients should also ask to see credentials. Although diplomas can be faked, it is one precaution consumers can take as well as asking friends to refer good doctors.
If you question treatments your doctor is performing or are not sure about his advice, get a second opinion at another hospital or office. No doctor is infallible. It pays to be careful.
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