Laura Neerings was scared when Dr. Robert Charles Davis required her 31-year-old husband, Darren, to take three electrocardiograms within one week.
"Let's draw up the life insurance," she remembers thinking, when the expensive medical test, used to diagnose heart disease, was ordered to track her husband's heartbeat. "He is going to die soon."Laura had made the appointment with Davis, 1781 W. 9000 South, because he advertised after-hours care and her husband wouldn't have to take time off work to see about his pneumonia symptoms.
Her fears about her husband's health were heightened when Davis scheduled Darren for the EKG tests, two additional appointments and a treadmill test.
For the three visits - at which Darren actually saw the doctor for about five minutes each - extensive tests and a shopping-list of diagnoses, the Neerings' bill totaled $870. Davis said Darren had cystitis, angina, lung mass, sinus arrhythmia and pneumonia.
Laura was expecting the bill to be under the $300 deductible on their health insurance policy. "I thought, `Oh, no way will it be over $300. I'll just pay it.' I finally got a copy and about died when I saw $870."
Darren broke his fourth scheduled appointment and eventually got better without any more medical help. When they contacted their regular physician about the EKG results, according to Neerings, the doctor said he wouldn't even administer such a test if the patient was sick with some other illness, such as pneumonia, as test results would be skewed.
Davis, licensed to practice medicine in Utah since April 1983, is on probation with the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. Licensing officials say Davis hasn't met the terms of his probation.
"I'm still seeing patients weekly who complain about him," said one south valley doctor. "The thing that really hurts - the overcharging and stuff like that is just a nuisance - is that he is hurting people."
But he and other physicians are frustrated at how long it took state licensing officials to act on the complaints. And doctors say they are angry at the number of patients they believe have been harmed by Davis.
Neerings said she is angry that state licensing regulations don't protect consumers. "We call the insurance companies, and they all have heard about him, but they can't do anything about it," Neerings said. "It's doctors like him that raise our insurance premiums.
"If we have to, we'll go picket his office."
The Neerings are among the former patients and health-care professionals who have complained to the Deseret News about Davis' medical practice.
"I have written a letter of complaint to the Department of Business Regulations about his unwillingness to transfer records on patients who have transferred care from him to our office," said Dr. Peter Bauer, who has a family practice in West Jordan.
The Deseret News anonymously submitted a sampling of Davis' bills from former patients for an independent review to the Medical Review Institute of America, a national firm headquartered in Utah. The licensed physician who reviewed the bills said they appeared inconsistent. Some of the diagnosis codes do not match the description of services and prices charged for medical tests do not appear competitive with national laboratories.
David Poulson, 39, West Jordan, made an appointment to see Davis in July, complaining of an infected bug bite. His wife, Colleen, said after two visits and a battery of medical tests - including an electrocardiogram, a treadmill and pulmonary functions test - the Poulsons received a bill for $1,015. Their insurance company determined the total allowable payment for medical services delivered for his complaint was $263.
Among the other complaints:
-Robert Henline, 18, saw Davis, who ordered blood tests, then suggested the patient might have cancer or tuberculosis. Another physician, who asked not to be named, said he examined Henline several days later, and tests showed no signs of cancer.
-Denise Clausen, a 26-year-old West Jordan mother, had a cough when she went to see Davis. The physician told her she had high blood pressure and she might need medication to control it. Her blood pressure fluctuated between 128/90 and 126/86. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Based on her past medical bills from other doctors, she expected a bill around $100 to $200. Davis' bill for four visits within three weeks totaled $730.
-A South Jordan couple, who asked that their names not be printed, said Davis misdiagnosed their son's strep throat as an allergy. Only after three emergency visits, when the child's temperature reached 105, did Davis notice the throat infection and prescribe antibiotics. Another time the couple called the office to see how much the doctor would charge for a tetanus shot and were told $15. After they went in for the shot, they received a bill for $80.
-Fred Hartman, 62, West Jordan, received a bill for $1,330 after two visits to Davis in March 1988. He originally scheduled an appointment complaining of a sore in his nose. His wife, Sally, said at first they refused to pay the bill because they thought it was exorbitant. "When we saw the bill, we freaked out." Their insurance company paid $492.36 of the charges. After filing complaints with state licensing officials, the couple received threatening letters demanding payment from Davis' attorney.
-Dr. Judith Kirstein, a family doctor in West Jordan, said Davis charged one family $815 for three visits during which he stitched their 8-year-old boy's leg wound closed. Standard charges for treatment of a routine laceration - without complications and depending on the size of the laceration - would be approximately $125 at her clinic, she said. "He has a higher usage of lab and X-ray than many doctors in this community."
-Mark Neff, administrator at Holy Cross-Jordan Valley Hospital, said he has received several calls from patients of Davis' complaining of overcharging.
-A 62-year-old Sandy man, who asked that his name not be printed, said Davis prescribed medicine for his heart. The former patient said a heart specialist later told him he had no symptoms of heart problems and ordered him off the medicine Davis prescribed, saying it was harmful to his health.
-Todd Kinzer, 25, Magna, said he went to see Davis complaining of flu symptoms in July 1988. After four hours' worth of tests during that visit, Kinzer was diagnosed as having bronchitis and diabetes and billed $890. Kinzer said he thought Davis performed excessive tests. "He really piled it on. It's like walking into a car dealer and coming out with five cars," Kinzer said.
-A local insurance executive, who asked that his name not be printed in the newspaper, said insured patients dispute many of the tests Davis claims he has performed. The company feels that Davis also performs unnecessary tests, and his bills are routinely above reasonable and customary charges. "The main reasons for his charges is overkill. I don't know why we can't get him shut down. He sticks out like somebody sitting out in the desert with a big bonfire."