Unlicensed health care provider statute interpreted in RI

An acupuncturist not only had his license revoked by the Department of Health, but also was charged with violating the unlicensed health care practices law.

First the conclusion:

As to the severity of the penalty, the Court finds that the DOH had overwhelming evidence to conclude that the Appellant preyed upon vulnerable individuals in times of personal crisis. He made numerous empty promises to extort disproportionate sums of money for the services he provided. To add insult to injury, he published advertisements that contained reproductions of his State-issued license to practice acupuncture to lend credence to this disgusting operation. As such the record evidence demonstrates the necessity of the penalty to protect the public from potential harm at the hands of Dr. Mai. Therefore, the Court not only refuses to disturb the decisions and orders of the DOH but, rather, wholly endorses the penalty imposed on Dr. Mai.

The case, LONG V. MAI vs PATRICIA A. NOLAN, M.D., In her Capacity as Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, and THE RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, 2005 R.I. Super. LEXIS 2 (2005), is the only one retrieved on a search of "unlicensed health care practices" in Rhode Island.

The brief facts are as follows:

Through word of mouth and an advertisement that appeared in a Vietnamese newspaper, Mrs. Le learned of Dr. Mai. The advertisement contained a reproduction of Dr. Mai's license to practice acupuncture issued by the State of Rhode Island and stated that he specialized in cancer treatment. Mrs. Le averred that the advertisement gave her the impression that Dr. Mai could cure her husband's liver problems. When Mrs. Le contacted the Appellant, he did not have an available appointment for at least one month. Given the severity of Mr. Le's condition, Mrs. Le did not want her husband to wait to begin treatment.

After an extensive telephone conversation regarding her husband's condition, the Appellant offered to forego a physical examination and dispense herbal medications to treat her husband's cancer. The Appellant charged Mrs. Le $ 2,500 for two bottles of herbal medication. Each bottle contained one hundred (100) pills. He insisted that Mrs. Le tender payment in the form of a money order. The Appellant directed Mr. Le to take four pills twice daily before meals. After consuming approximately twenty-four pills, Mr. Le's condition did not improve. Mrs. Le contacted the Appellant, who advised Mr. Le to stop taking the medication. The Appellant offered to see Mr. Le if Mrs. Le brought him another money order for $ 4000, but the Les could not afford the cost. On October 19, 1999, Mr. Le was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with end stage liver cancer. He died the same day. After the Appellant refused to reimburse Mrs. Le for the remaining pills, she contacted the police and filed a complaint with the DOH.

The authorities in this case also raised a charge of false and deceptive advertising under Rhode Island law.

With respect to the advertisements, the DOH found: "that [Dr. Mai's] advertisement and drug therapy practices [were] designed to provide him with financial benefit to the physical, emotional, and financial detriment of his patients." In re Matter of Long V. Mai, AH 00-12 at p. 26 (Dec. 15, 2000). The DOH concluded that the advertisements intentionally showcased the Appellant's state-issued license to bolster the false and deceptive claim that he specialized in cancer treatment. In addition, the DOH expressed concern over the Appellant's false representations as to the effective ability of herbal medication to treat and cure difficult diseases.

Moral of the story is probably familiar: there are serious legal (and ethical) risks involved in advertising that a CAM therapy can cure cancer; in being overly aggressive in terms of claims made when advertising one's CAM practice; in crossing the line between authorized scope of practice, and the unlicensed practice of medicine; and in crossing the line between any authorized unlicensed health care practices, and illegal medical practice.