Medical board charges Modesto doctor with negligence in weight-loss program

kcarlson@modbee.comJanuary 22, 2014 

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Hill Chiropractic at 3609 Oakdale Road in Modesto on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.

ANDY ALFARO — aalfaro@modbee.com Buy Photo

— The Medical Board of California has leveled a charge of gross negligence against a Modesto doctor who worked with patients in a controversial weight-loss program.

Dr. Prithvi Shankar was a medical doctor for The Hill Center for Integrated Medicine on Oakdale Road and was responsible for patients on hormone therapy programs and the Hill Diet, a 500-calorie-per-day regimen that’s commonly known as an HCG program. The Food and Drug Administration has advised consumers to stay away from HCG weight-loss products and issued warnings to companies about selling the drugs and making unsupported claims about them.

The Medical Board investigated a woman’s complaint that she suffered serious side effects from the diet and hormone therapy done under Shankar’s supervision.

According to the Jan. 15 Medical Board accusation, a female patient at the Hill Center was given a shot containing testosterone, a steroid not approved for use in women. Investigators determined that Shankar failed to tell the patient about potential side effects of the diet or hormone therapy. The accusation further charges that the doctor lacked knowledge of what was in the shots given to patients by nursing staff and did not examine or take down the medical histories of patients before they were approved for the diet.

Investigators found the woman’s chart was devoid of information about her medical or surgical history, the medications she took and the medical reason for giving her testosterone.

The patient was on the Hill Diet from April to August in 2011, even though it’s supposed to be a six-week diet. She complained of hair loss that June and was given what the center called a “women’s shot” containing testosterone, carnitine and vitamin B12, according to the accusation.

About 10 days after the injection, the patient complained of genital swelling, extreme muscle soreness and mood changes. The symptoms went away over a few weeks, the complaint says.

Brent Hill, a chiropractor who owns the center, said testosterone injections were occasionally given to men and women “under certain circumstances,” but they are not part of the Hill Diet. He said the center has offered the diet for five or six years. Hill Chiropractic and The Hill Center for Integrated Medicine, which offers an array of services from colonic cleansing to injectable vitamins and teeth whitening, are separate corporations, Hill said.

The diet is “safe, it’s effective and we have had tremendous success,” Hill said. “We have seen people lose 20 to 100 pounds.” He suggested a disgruntled employee was the patient who complained to the Medical Board. The patient is identified in documents by the initials “S.T.”

According to Hill, Shankar stopped working at the center about a year and a half ago for business reasons. He has an internal medicine practice on East Orangeburg Avenue in Modesto.

Shankar said this week that the Medical Board accusation has some factual information and “some things that are not factual.” He declined to discuss the allegations in detail because the case has not gone to a hearing.

Shankar maintained that the patient was not harmed by the diet or hormone treatment. “We are not sure if (the side effects) were from the diet. We are trying to review the chart,” Shankar said. “I am pretty confident we can clear it up.”

Medical Board spokeswoman Cassandra Hockenson said the state will set an administrative law hearing for considering the allegations. A pretrial conference will be held to settle the allegations or assess any penalties. A trial will be held if there is no settlement.

The Medical Board could revoke or suspend the doctor’s license or bar Shankar from supervising physician assistants. Shankar could be ordered to pay the costs if he is placed on probation.

The FDA has warned that a person taking in only 500 calories per day has higher risks for developing gallstones and an imbalance of electrolytes, which ensure the nerves and muscles are working properly. Irregular heartbeat is another potential complication. The normal allowance is 2,000 calories per day.

Critics of HCG diets argue that people lose weight because of the extreme restriction on calories.

Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz, known for his “Dr. Oz” television show, gave the HCG diets a plug when he declared in 2011 that it was OK to try the weight-loss programs under a doctor’s supervision, based on testimonials of people who had lost weight.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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