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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Medical officials warn against mobile body scans

The yellow flier promised “A Body Scan Can Save Your Life!” but when Susan Cross called, every appointment at Spokane’s Hampton Inn was taken.

That dismayed the North Idaho woman, and not because she was eager for a $60 analysis of her pancreas.

Cross, a licensed practical nurse, was worried about the popularity of medical tests offered by Ultra Life Inc., a California firm in town this weekend to provide mobile ultrasound screenings.

“I saw that and, just like that, my hackles went up,” Cross said.

Between 30 and 40 local residents signed up for appointments of 45 minutes to an hour scheduled through Saturday, said Warren Green, co-owner of the Huntington Beach firm. The company comes to Spokane about every 10 weeks, he added.

Clients include people willing to pay for tests that range from a $45 scan of the aorta and a $275 “cancer/organ scan” to a “full body scan” for $500. The tests purport to analyze body parts using sound waves that Green said have detected serious medical conditions.

“We find big blockages going to the brain that cause stroke,” he said. “We’ve found masses on the organs.”

Green said he and his staff have conducted the exams for 22 years, traveling across the nation hauling four 500-pound ultrasound machines. Tests are performed by trained technicians and analyzed by licensed doctors, he said, declining to be specific. Clients receive written reports and ultrasound films within three weeks of the test.

“This is all preventative,” he said. “This is just like you getting a cholesterol test at the drug store.”

But local medical professionals said they’re concerned about the fallout from tests done by itinerant providers. They fret that the exams may worry patients needlessly or, alternately, give clients a false sense of security. They worry that the tests are just a way to fleece cash from anxious people with no serious health problems, folks described as “the worried wealthy.”

“There’s really no way an individual who’s referring themselves has a way of evaluating the qualifications of the company,” said Dr. Don Cubberley, a radiologist with Inland Imaging in Spokane.

Exams shouldn’t be conducted without reason and dispensed without explanation, added Cross. A medical history and a physical exam are necessary for accurate interpretation.

“I wonder what kind of M.D. would read these things without any background?” she said. “It’s sort of like a horoscope.”

Attorneys general in two states have investigated Green’s firm for practicing medicine without a license, state Web sites show. In Florida, the state’s Economic Crimes Division is still looking into allegations of unlicensed testing.

In Missouri, Attorney General Jay Nixon went to court to force Green to provide information to consumers before testing and to work with a state-based doctor.

In Washington, no complaints have been filed against Ultra Life or Green with health or consumer protection agencies, state officials said. The company appears to skirt state laws governing medical practice, said Dave Magby, chief investigator for the state Department of Health.

If Green’s firm charges fees to conduct ultrasound tests without offering advice or treatment suggestions, that doesn’t violate state health law, he said.

“Just the performance of ultrasound is not a medical practice,” Magby said. “In order to take action, we’d have to have something more solid than this.”

If clients felt that they were being advised to change their health care on the basis of the tests, that could be a problem.

But Green said his firm never offers advice or treatment recommendations.

“We provide test results,” he said. “That’s what the people want.”

Still, $500 is a lot of money for any test, added Magby, who urged clients with concerns about the exams to contact state officials.

Green defended his services and his clients’ right to seek the medical care of their choice.

“We just do good testing,” Green said. “We don’t have any unsatisfied customers in Spokane.”

Ultra Life Inc. carries a triple-A rating from the Better Business Bureau based in Colton, Calif., the highest ranking the agency offers, records showed.

In the past three years, four complaints have been logged with the bureau, records showed. In three cases, the company refunded clients’ money. In the last case, they agreed to perform according to the contract.

Ultra Life organ scans probably don’t pose a particular health risk but neither do they offer a health benefit, local medical personnel agreed. Cross said the biggest danger is probably to clients’ wallets.

“It’s obviously just a money-making deal,” she said.

Green disagreed. He said he charges a fraction of the fees of hospital- and clinic-based tests. People just pay his costs out-of-pocket.

“We make a decent profit,” he said. “But nobody, including myself, has gotten rich off of this.”

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