A Florida neurologist is taking down his shingle in the wake of an NBC Nightly News report about how he allegedly misdiagnosed patients with multiple sclerosis so he could bill them for pricey, painful treatments.
Dr. Sean Orr, called a “greedy conman” by federal prosecutors, confirmed Tuesday that he is taking a "leave of absence" from the Brain & Spine Center in Panama City, saying the attention "has made it impossible to continue to practice now."
"My partners and I have mutually decided and agreed that my time will be better spent dedicated to dealing with the legal issues in front of me," Orr said in a statement. The practice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"I am sad for my current patients, but I am confident that they will be very well cared for by my partners in my absence," Orr added. "I would like to thank my patients and the medical community for the outpouring of support that I’ve received over the past week.”
At one time, Orr was head of neurology at Jacksonville Florida’s Baptist Medical Center, a team doctor for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, and lived in a million-dollar home.
But in 2013, Orr had his license suspended for a year for allegedly having sex with one patient, and two months ago he agreed to pay $150,000 to the Justice Department to settle a whistle-blower fraud suit over the allegedly bogus bills without admitting wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors say Dr. Orr misdiagnosed patients with MS, an incurable disease that can disable the central nervous system and cause paralysis, so he could charge them for expensive and unnecessary treatments. Orr maintains he "operated within the standard of care."
An NBC News investigation revealed that even as the U.S. attorney weighed possibly criminal charges against Orr, he had moved across the state to Panama City and begun practicing medicine again.
"That's really scary," said former patient Amber Taylor, who went to Orr for migraines and was diagnosed with MS — which other doctors now say she does not have.
While under Orr's care, Taylor quit her job and borrowed $50,000 to renovate her home to accommodate a wheelchair, she said. The doctor put her on Copaxone, injections that cost $5,000 a month and left stinging welts all over her body, she said.
Other former patients told NBC News that Orr said he was able to diagnose MS by looking in their eyes. They said they were given spinal taps, Botox injections, steroid treatments and medications with eye-popping price tags.
The alleged misdiagnoses came to light through a fast-moving series of events in 2011.
After a patient's husband accused Orr of having an affair with his wife, the doctor was placed on administrative leave, according to court documents.
Three months later, a patient coordinator in the Neurology Department at Baptist, filed a whistle-blower suit, alleging Orr and the hospital had been charging Medicare and other federal insurance programs for unnecessary services.
Lee Bentley, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, said when his investigators began looking into the allegations, they uncovered massive billing fraud.
"Dr. Orr was a greedy conman," Bentley said. "He was able to convince patients who trusted him that they had MS and other debilitating neurological diseases and disorders. He used that to enrich himself and to also enhance his credibility as a top neurologist in Florida.'
Orr declined to be interviewed by NBC News, citing patient confidentiality. In a written statement, he described himself as a "believer in a proactive treatment" and said neurology is an evolving science marked by "differences of opinion" about diagnosis and treatment.
"I sought to be proactive and use neurological innovations where they were safe and available," he said. "Not all physicians agreed with my treatment or methodologies. Recent further peer reviews of my work, however, have concluded that I operated within the standard of care."
Baptist Health said it reviewed Orr's records as soon as his peers "raised questions" about his practices. "We did not know then, nor do we know now, if Dr. Orr's early diagnosis and treatment approach was inappropriate. We only know it was different than the pattern of his local physician peers," it said in a statement.
The Florida Health Department said it could not confirm if there is an open investigation into the alleged fraud.
Orr still faces lawsuits from individual patients, and his legal problems may not stop there. "It's possible there may be criminal charges," Bentley said.