The top 5 medical scandals of 2023

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published December 19, 2023
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Key Takeaways

  • Medical scandals were rife in 2023, ranging from fraudulent billing to sexual abuse.

  • The US Justice Department conducted a landmark sting operation in 2023 that targeted perpetrators of billions of dollars in fraud.

  • If a physician becomes aware of fraud or abuse, it’s imperative to notify the authorities; depending on the situation, the police, medical board, and Medicare are all resources for reporting inappropriate behavior.

In June 2023, the US Department of Justice, along with federal and state law enforcement, took down 78 defendants in a 2-week sting for their "alleged participation in healthcare fraud and opioid abuse schemes."[]

Although medical scandals involving docs behaving badly is nothing new, the scope of this crackdown was notable and represented more than $2.5 billion in alleged fraud.

“Patients trust federal health care programs to provide high quality care. When bad actors steal from these programs, they hurt patients,” stated Inspector General Christi A. Grimm of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), in a press release. “HHS-OIG is dedicated to protecting federal health care programs and putting patients first.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of 2023’s most shocking medical scandals.

Telemedicine scams

In total, the Justice Department levied charges vs 11 defendants connected to the submission of more than $2 billion in fraudulent claims related to telemedicine. One case involved a CEO, a former CEO, and the vice president of business development of purported software and services companies that created and peddled templates of doctors’ orders for orthotic braces and pain creams in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.

The fraud is one of the biggest on record and generated $1.9 billion in claims to Medicare and other government payers for items that were medically unnecessary.

The defendants programmed their software platforms to generate fraudulent orders for telemedicine practitioners to sign, obstructing Medicare investigators by covering up the fact that these orders were signed remotely. Certifications and tests required by Medicare for brace orders were falsified. In an egregious turn: When the software platform was acquired by a new corporate owner, the new CEO continued the scheme.

Another case of telemedicine fraud involved a licensed physician located in Washington state who signed more than 2,800 fraudulent orders for orthotic braces. (Some of the patients had already had amputations!) It took fewer than 40 seconds for the physician to sign each order.

False scripts

In total, the Justice Department charged 24 physicians and other medical professionals for racking up more than $150 million in false billings submitted involving the illegal distribution of opioids, as well as clinical laboratory testing fraud. 

The physicians put their patients’ health at risk with these unnecessary opioid prescriptions. Moreover, the physicians, other providers, and healthcare companies paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and beneficiaries in exchange for patient information used to populate bills to be remitted by Medicare.

An infamous TikTok doc

Katherine Roxanne Grawe made waves as “Dr. Roxy” on the social media app TikTok where she live-streamed her surgeries while mugging for the camera and answering viewers' questions.[] 

The Ohio Medical Board had been concerned with her actions since 2018, and finally revoked her license permanently in 2023 after a series of botched surgeries and warnings. 

In one live-streamed surgery, Dr. Roxy perforated a patient’s bowel, which resulted in septic shock, a trip to the ICU, and brain damage. 

Predator at Columbia University

Robert Hadden sexually abused and assaulted dozens of patients while practicing as an OB/GYN at Columbia University between 1987 and 2012.[]

His crimes allegedly include exploiting power differentials, asking inappropriate questions of a sexual nature, providing unsolicited sexual advice, molesting the women under the guise of “breast” and “vaginal” exams, and rape. He was known to isolate his patients to perform fake “exams.”

Although Dr. Hadden was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Columbia was complicit per a watershed investigation published in ProPublica.[] To date, the university has still not formally informed potential victims of the abuse or initiated a formal investigation.

Another OB/GYN charged

In what is emblematic of a disturbing trend, another OB/GYN, George Tyndall, was charged with more than 2 dozen criminal accounts of sexual misconduct between 2009 and 2016 at the University of Southern California’s health center. 

The doctor pleaded not guilty in 2019, but the school ended up paying more than $1 billion in payouts to victims. As with Dr. Hadden at Columbia, the school was complicit. In 2023, Dr. Tyndall died while out on bond; he was 76.[]

What this means for you

The vast majority of physicians would never engage in inappropriate, criminal, or fraudulent acts. Nevertheless, if you see something, say something. Depending on the situation, the police, medical board, and Medicare are all resources for reporting inappropriate behavior. The actions of concerned physicians can potentially save the suffering of countless victims.

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