Florida Nightmare: Wrongly Diagnosed with MS
Perhaps by now you have heard the story of Sean Orr, a physician at Baptist Medical Center, Jacksonville, Florida, who has been exposed for diagnosing people with multiple sclerosis when they really didn’t have it. The story aired on NBC Nightly News, August 18, and is all over social media. The MS Community is shaking their head at this story and many shaken enough to question their own care as well.
This neurologist was head of a hospital neurology department and was smooth enough to con people into believing they had MS, then prescribing costly drugs and even more, he did costly procedures on them and profited from it. None of these drugs or tests were necessary. He earned a six figure salary in excess of a half-million dollars, depending on how many patients he saw and he took additional fees of another quarter million dollars or so, from consulting for pharmaceutical companies. He built a reputation of being a top MS doctor on the false cases he built for these patients. He also earned a tremendous amount of money on that reputation.
I can’t imagine which would come first – relief or anger if I had been one of his patients. I certainly would have felt both and a lot more. All of us with MS know how life altering the words ‘you have MS’ has on everything we do. There is that ever present question of what is coming next that can’t be shaken off or left behind. The harm he has done is irreparable - his victims will never recover from this betrayal of trust.
If you are on the internet much and in patient forums then you may have heard a person or two who was mistakenly misdiagnosed with MS, but it wasn’t done by a licensed physician who is facing a criminal investigation over the matter. It seems he had a very lavish lifestyle, financed by all the money made off of his large number of patients, and especially because they were prescribed drugs and tests they didn’t need.
This is a good time to discuss second opinions and their importance. One of the women interviewed in the national news story about her diagnosis said she went to several other doctors and was told she didn’t have MS, but she still chose to believe Dr. Orr, because he couldn’t possibly be wrong. The other people interviewed said they had no reason to even question their diagnosis – Dr. Orr was that good of a con man. “Greedy con man” was the description used by federal officers who are investigating.
So how do we determine the doctor who we trust with our care is legitimate? A lot of it has to do with faith- I for one believe that Sean Orr is the exception rather than the rule. People don’t go into medicine normally to harm others; I have to believe that much to even step into a doctor’s office. But that faith can also be backed up by a second opinion from another doctor, who practices in a different place than your first one. I’ll admit, I have not had a second opinion, but my MRIs have been viewed by many specialists for various studies and my MS has the classic display of lesions. The MRI images have been read by radiologists who are in different parts of the state even and the opinion is unanimous – I have a demyelinating disorder. My neurologist also suggested that if I had questions, he would have no problem with me getting a second opinion. All of this is enough for me to go on – my MS is real.
There is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, especially when it comes to a chronic disease like MS. The diagnosis is hard for many people to get and even harder at times to believe. If you have doubts about your own MS, it doesn’t hurt to get that second evaluation, especially for your own peace of mind.
As for Sean Orr – he has settled financially over a charge of fraudulent billing and paid $150,000 to the government, but he still has his medical license and is in practice in Panama City, Florida. He defends his work and says there is just a difference of opinion in the medical community. Other physicians said Orr used different diagnostic criteria than they did, but they stop just short of saying what he did was wrong. There will be legal cases filed and I hope the people who were taken down this nightmarish path are given the opportunity to be heard in court. There is also talk he may face criminal charges.
I am disgusted by this case, as I am sure everyone who has heard of it feels, and just like keeping faith in the majority of the medical system, I have faith our legal system will have the final say and Orr will pay for this misuse of power and trust.
Wishing you well,
How well do people around you understand MS?