Washington: Officials suspect Florida doctor Francesann Ford injected her plastic surgery patients with fake Botox from China even after the Food and Drug Administration told her to stop, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. Authorities raided Ford's Coral Springs office earlier this week as part of a year-long investigation into her practices, local news reports say.
"Obviously, these chemical components being brought in from China are not vetted, sanctioned, or approved in any way," US Postal Service Inspector Ivan Ramirez said, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Ford is accused of using non-FDA-approved drugs on people who found her services through Groupon, an e-commerce site better known for its discounts on dinners out or yoga classes. Ramirez cautioned people against falling for "too good to be true" offers on the site, where a growing array of medical services serve as a testament to "a health care market where patients desperately want a deal," as a recent Kaiser Health News article put it.
Ford has so far not been charged in the case, officials said.
Groupon is no longer working with Ford's business and reached out to customers after the allegations were brought to its attention, company spokesman Bill Roberts told The Washington Post. With almost 6,000 medical-related promotions available around the United States, the site offers top providers and is "increasingly becoming a destination for people concerned about their health-care dollars," he said.
Florida plastic surgeon Adam Rubinstein told The Post that, while Groupon offers of health services are not necessarily problematic, the allegations against Ford feed long-standing concerns about deal-seeking patients' vulnerability to scams and doctors without certification in his field. Stories abound of patients suffering from reduced-rate injections of toxic materials and fatal complications that could have been avoided.
Too much temptation
Plastic surgery "is costly to do the right way, and so there's too much temptation for nefarious practitioners to get cheap material [and] offer the services at a cut rate," Rubinstein told The Post. "It's very tempting for the public."
The Post was unable to reach Ford or her business, Beautiful Vision, on Friday.
Beautiful Vision's website describes Ford as "a highly qualified physician with 9 years of experience in the field of surgery and ophthalmology." It states that she completed residency training in ophthalmology as well as fellowships in corneal research and oculoplastic surgery - plastic and reconstructive surgery of facial features such as the eyelids and cheeks.
But Ford does not have a plastic surgery certification through the American Board of Medical Specialties, according to the group's website Certification Matters. That means she lacks the specialty's standard stamp of approval, Rubinstein said.
A licensed doctor can legally provide medical care of any kind to a consenting patient, he said, even if they lack the relevant board certification. He thinks that's a particular worry in the plastic surgery field, which he said many practitioners from other areas look to as a way to supplement their income.
The core of the allegations - that Ford used unapproved products despite a warning - would be "an egregious violation of ethics" if true, Rubinstein added.
Authorities are looking to talk with patients who may have experienced complications from their cosmetic procedures at Beautiful Vision, news outlets reported.
"It's going to be the difference between just getting slapped with a sanction versus actually facing criminal charges," Ramirez said.
Much about the case against Ford is unclear, as the doctor has yet to be charged. The Florida Department of Health, reportedly involved in the investigation, could not speak to the case or even confirm its existence, spokesman Brad Dalton told The Post, citing a state law that says such details could only be shared after officials find "probable cause" of wrongdoing.
State health, FDA and Postal Service officials executed Wednesday's search warrant at Ford's office, according to CBS Miami.
FDA spokesman Jeremy Kahn told The Post he could only confirm that the agency's Office of Criminal Investigation is "conducting a law enforcement activity" in Coral Springs. Kahn said he could not provide information about the FDA's reported prior warning to Ford or speak to when authorities would give a warning rather than take more punitive measures.
The Postal Service did not respond to inquiries Friday.