Where’s Dr. Waldo: Avoiding Stem Cell Clinic Scams

by Chris Centeno, MD /

stem cell clinic review

I was pinged this weekend by an unfortunate gentleman with a spinal cord injury. We only treat orthopedic conditions, so he sent a clinic link for me to review and asked if this was a good clinic. It took me less than 60 seconds to answer a resounding NO. Why? It’s all about the physician or lack thereof, let me explain.

Businessmen Running Clinics

One of the things that’s become more common these days is business people running medical clinics. That model has flourished in the stem cell wild west, where we have many clinics owned by a non-physician. While this arrangement can work, it’s also ripe for abuse. Let me explain.

Running a medical clinic is hard work. There are a hundred little medical details that need to go right that need to be supervised by a physician. Hence, having a physician on-site full-time is key. However, doctors are expensive, so looking at a spreadsheet, the best thing to do is either limit the doctor’s involvement in the clinic or replace him or her altogether with a lesser trained provider like a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant.

Where’s Dr. Waldo?

You may remember that game from when you were a kid called “Where’s Waldo?” Well, the same applies to clinics. When I was asked to look at the clinic for the patient with a spinal cord injury, the first thing I did was to go hunting for a doctor (Dr. Waldo). I clicked on the “About US” page and only saw a business guy and a bunch of office staff. No doctor. I looked everywhere on the site and saw the name of no physician who worked full time at the clinic. In fact, I found no name at all. Hence, the doctors in this clinic are just part of some business guy’s spreadsheet entry. So I told the guy with the spinal cord injury to look elsewhere, as it’s likely that the quality of care at that clinic is an afterthought.

The Average Chiro Clinic Has the Same Issue

The average magic stem cell clinic run by a chiropractor has the same “Where’s Dr. Waldo” problem. Meaning that often you look and see no physician. This is a dead give away that this clinic is a business first and a medical clinic second.

What if You Find Dr. Waldo?

Some clinics will have a doctor listed, but your next question should be, is that doctor there full time or does he or she have control over the medical details in the clinic? All too often, he or she is for rent. An easy way to find that out is to Google the doctor’s name to see if they are listed elsewhere, if so, then you have a “rent a doc” scenario going on, which may be just as bad as not having one, as the doctor likely has little say in what goes on at the clinic.

There are exceptions to this rule. Meaning, there are clinics where doctors work where they may not be there full time, but they have control over what goes on when they’re there and the clinic is set up around what they deem is safe. An example of this is a hospital ER. Many doctors may work there, but there is usually a medical director who oversees the safety mechanisms built into the clinic. Another example would be the clinic we work out of in Grand Cayman. Many different doctors work there, but this is an established medical facility with many specialties and we have immense control over the medical aspects of what’s done and how.

If the doctor is only practicing at that clinic, next make sure that it’s he or she that you’ll be seeing. As I found out with one chiro owned clinic chain called IMAC Regeneration Centers, patients first see a non-physician who does the diagnosing and deciding if the patient is a candidate for the treatment. What’s the use of having a doctor performing regenerative medicine procedures if he or she is not the one figuring out how and when to use the procedure?

Another problem is that the onsite physician has no business performing the planned procedure. Obviously, you don’t want a psychiatrist performing a knee injection or a family doctor injecting something into your spinal canal. We also see plastic surgeons injecting muscles and cardiologists injecting hips. For orthopedic work, these are specialties that are more focused on this area:

  1. Physical Medicine and Rehab (PMR)
  2. Orthopedic surgery
  3. Interventional Pain Management (PMR or Anesthesia)
  4. Interventional Radiology
  5. Family Practice with a Sports Medicine Fellowship

The upshot? This may sound like a simple thing, but it’s an important one. Look for a physician when vetting a clinic and then look to see if he or she is practicing there full time. Also, make sure the medical specialty is one of the above for orthopedic work. Again, buyer beware!

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5 thoughts on “Where’s Dr. Waldo: Avoiding Stem Cell Clinic Scams

  1. JERRY BAKER

    I found a clinic near your Tucson Regenexx office and have visited with their doctor. Your physician, after looking at my MRI’s and X-rays, (back and shoulder), told me my back was a good candidate for Stem Cell injections and my shoulder was a moderate candidate for the same injections. This office said my back was so full of arthritis he would not suggest the treatment on my back but did think my shoulder was a candidate for treatment with strong likelihood of improvement. I explained I know that it is painful to take stem cells from my own bone but I would prefer that over risking someone else, but I could not afford the 3 treatment scenario from Regenexx totaling more than $15,000. This doctor said he felt I would only need one treatment using my stem cells from my bone, stem cells from fat tissue, my PRP, and exosomes from umbilical tissue all in one treatment. I really am at a quandary of what is best for me to do with my very limited funds, 81 yrs of age, active golfer and pretty active in general. I have been to your seminar in Tucson and have had your office read my MRI”s and X-rays.

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi JERRY,
      It’s difficult for patients to know what to believe. Here are some important questions to get answers to:
      What type of Fat Stem Cell procedure is this? Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/judge-rules-in-fdas-favor-against-fat-stem-cell-clinic-chain/
      What are their Candidacy ratings based on?
      Do they have published research on the specific procedure they would be doing on your shoulder?
      What type of imaging guidance would they be using?
      Do they have outcome data published on their website?
      Is the person doing the procedure a Physician? If so, what is their specialty and what is their training in Regenerative medicine?
      Would the procedure be done in a fully equipped procedure suite?
      Do they have an onsite lab?
      Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/watch-advanced-image-guided-injection-shoulder-step-procedure-suite-dr-schultz/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/orthopedic-stem-cell-treatment/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/kimera-labs-exosomes-review/ Let us know if you need further help.

  2. Tito David

    “Avoiding Stem Cell Clinic Scam “
    I have been reading your articles about stem cell therapy . What you have been sharing with us are mostly true .
    I underwent 2 knees stem cell therapy .
    To date , after 2 yrs. 3 mos . , I am still in pain . When I was evaluated , after a yr. into it , I was evaluated . I was told by the lady who took the X- ray that there was no sign of cartilage reproducing . It was still the same as it was before treatment . She just recommended another series of physical therapy , 25 times . This was on top of the one given me before the actual stem therapy , 25 times . I asked if I can have a follow-up , additional stem cell injections . Yes , but I have to pay again . No specialty Doctor talked to me . My insurance approved 2 times physical therapy , which I did . After that no more communication . No follow up treatment ( if I did , I had to pay ) , no communication from them .
    Do I have a legal course of action vs. them for misrepresentation,
    deception , malpractice , or unfair business practices ?
    Thank you so much for your sincere concerns, & very informative articles .
    Respectfully , Tito David .

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Tito,
      Thank you! What type of stem cells were used?

  3. John Brkich

    Now that stem cell treatments are becoming more common the “snake oil” salesmen are coming out of the woodworks. Buyer beware-much in the same way when people claim to use AI when they have no idea what it truly is. Stick with proven entities. After much research we went with Regenexx

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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