A Richmond acupuncturist is accused of bilking B.C.'s Medical Services Plan of more than $2 million after claiming to have seen up to 461 patients in a single day.
An investigation by the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia found Mubai Qiu's clinic nearly empty during an inspection last July.
Dr. Wanda Stevens, the college's director of standards and practices, testified at a public disciplinary hearing for Qiu in Vancouver Wednesday.
An acupuncturist herself, Stevens told the three-person panel she's "swamped" handling just 10 to 15 patients a day for 20 minutes each.
"I haven't seen anything like it. It's impossible to provide that much services in any given day," she said.
"It's preposterous actually."
Qiu is not taking part in the hearing, but his legal counsel sent in an application for a stay of proceedings. The committee decided to hear the evidence before making a decision on his application.
Dr. Vern Davis, a member of B.C.'s Ministry of Health Audit and Investigations branch, told the panel MSP began covering acupuncture on Apr. 1, 2008.
British Columbians on premium assistance are entitled to 10 services a year. MSP pays $23 a service.
The ministry raised a red flag on Qiu's practice after an initial review in 2009 showed he was one of the province's top two billing acupuncturists.
Davis said a follow-up site audit of 1,219 records connected to 75 patients found a 100 per cent rate of error during a period from Apr. 1, 2008 to Oct. 31, 2010.
"For all claims looked at, there was an inadequate clinical record to support the claim," he said.
The ministry wanted to recover $632,684 — but agreed to settle with Qiu for $100,000 and conditions which included a future audit.
But according to Davis, when auditors looked at his records again last year, they noticed a surprising trend.
"What we saw was a significant increase in volume of services billed," he said.
For the fiscal year 2010-11, Qiu billed MSP more than $500,000. The next year, Davis says he billed $1.2 million.
A recently completed audit again found a 100 per cent rate of error in patient records, and the ministry is now looking to get that money back.
Quality of care
Davis said the ministry also expressed concerns about quality of care, given days where the acupuncturist allegedly claimed to have treated nearly 400 patients.
Davis says the patient numbers are all real, but the ministry has concerns about their source.
"What we had concerns about was the volume of patients," Davis told the committee. "Whether it was physically possible."
Stevens says her investigation last summer suggested something was amiss.
The clinic was nearly empty and had only seven treatment beds, despite the high volume of patients Qiu claimed to treat for 20 minutes at a time.
She says a visit to his clinic turned up jars of herbs soaking in alcohol, as well as crates of ice wine.
Stevens said Qiu has failed to meet the requirements of conditions placed on him by the college prior to the hearing.
She also found patient logs which appear to be pre-signed and she made copies of volumes of claims Qiu has allegedly submitted to private insurers.
The college also hired a private investigator to place Qiu's clinic under surveillance to see how many patients a day he sees.
The investigator is expected to testify Thursday.