Selected excerpts from the Dateline NBC episode "Splitting Hairs"
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Can they really live up to those promises? Are the claims realistic? Can surgery restore your hair? We decided to investigate, and were surprised by how many men we talked to who felt ripped off and disfigured.
HANSEN: How big is this problem?
Dr. MANNY MERRITT: I don't want to sound histrionic and tell you it's of epidemic proportions, but it's of epidemic proportions.
Unidentified Man #4: (From commercial) Don't wait another day to do something about your hair loss.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) By far, the largest clinic in hair transplanting is the Bosley Medical Group. Dr. Lee Bosley spent millions on marketing, and created an empire. He now operates 28 offices around the country. Last year his company performed 12,000 procedures.
(Commercial; magazines; advertisements; US map)
HANSEN: (Voiceover) What Langford rarely mentions is that it cost $44,000 and took 10 surgeries over 10 years to get his hair. Even today, he continues to get touch-up work. But if Warren Langford represents Dr. Bosley's dream patient, meet his nightmare. When he was 24, Mason Boggs went to the Bosley Clinic in San Francisco. He says he was told he needed two surgeries, for $5,000 each, and his hair would be thick and full again.
(Commercial; Langford in surgery; Mason Boggs hanging picture)
Mr. MASON BOGGS: The hair that was planted did grow, but it was a very, very thin and very detectable, very noticeable.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) He says his doctors told him to be patient and prescribed the same procedures again and again. Not just transplants, but more serious surgery. It's called a scalp reduction. The idea is to reduce the bald area by literally cutting it away and then pulling the skin with hair closer together. But the surgery leaves scars. So Boggs felt compelled to get more transplants to cover the scars. And he kept losing hair and that led to still more surgery.
(Boggs; computer simulation; Hansen interviewing Boggs)
Mr. BOGGS: I was always told, throughout every surgery, that this will be the surgery that makes the difference.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) For the past seven years, he's been hiding the results of those surgeries under a hat. Boggs says he was deceived and disfigured by Bosley Medical and he sued. Bosley refutes the charges and the case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Boggs is now appealing. He says surgery by another doctor improved things, but his hair still looks thin and uneven. There's a large, hairless strip down the top of his head, big gaps where the donor hair was removed, and a hairline that looks bumpy and unnatural. But he says the emotional impact is even more painful.
(Boggs shopping; Boggs' hair)
Mr. BOGGS: I'm a completely different person, not outgoing like I once was. No self-confidence like I once had.
HANSEN: Mason Boggs isn't the only Bosley patient who's angry. We also talked to 22 other patients who went to Bosley Medical. They say they're too self-conscious to appear on camera, but they told us about botched surgeries and broken promises. Stories that were confirmed by more than a dozen former employees of Bosley Medical.
Mr. JOE COX: We were selling image.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Joe Cox worked at Bosley Medical for eight months in 1991. He says there was a big gap between what Bosley Medical sold and what it delivered.
HANSEN: Did you ever see any patient come into Bosley and walk out looking like the brochure, like the advertisements we've seen?
Mr. COX: No.
Mr. COX: Never.
HANSEN: What does that say to you about the kind of work Bosley Medical does?
Mr. COX: It tells me that it's not a medical group. It's a sales group.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Cox says he made good money at Bosley, but after seeing the disappointing results most men got, he started feeling guilty. He says he was about to blow the whistle when Bosley fired him. The company says Cox was dismissed because he refused to call prospective patients at home in the evening.
Dr. BOSLEY: I truly believe that we have by far the finest training program for hair transplantation surgeons in the world.
Dr. STAN SZASLO: That's not true.
HANSEN: How would you describe their training program?
Dr. SZASLO: It's essentially nil.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dr. Stan Szaslo was a surgeon at Bosley's Beverly Hills office for 14 months, until January 1992. He says there was virtually no training. He watched a half-dozen procedures, and then he was on his own.
(Dr. Szaslo working)
Dr. SZASLO: It's a mill. It's a factory. And the whole policy is just push procedures. Do as many procedures as you can.
HANSEN: And according to Dr. Szaslo, it's Dr. Bosley's senior medical assistants, or SMAs, who push the hardest.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) With those official titles and white lab coats, it might surprise you to learn that at Bosley's clinics, SMAs don't need any formal medical training. Dr. Bosley invited us to spend a day at his Beverly Hills office. The SMA we saw was low key and informative. And Dr. Bosley himself came in, examined the patient, recommended surgery, and even told him that his hair restoration could be very expensive.
Mr. COX: Basically the s--the SMA was there to do the bulk of the consultation. And the doctor was there to do very little of the consultation because he only made money doing surgery.
HANSEN: Did you feel you were playing doctor?
Mr. COX: I did feel I was playing doctor.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Is it possible to sign up for surgery at a Bosley Clinic and meet your doctor for the first time in the operating room? We sent two DATELINE associate producers, wearing hidden cameras, to Bosley's New York office. One was offered surgery within five minutes, though he did have a 12 minute consultation with a doctor. But the other DATELINE employee, Jeff Pullman, never saw a doctor.
(Operating room; men in hallway; consultation; Jeff Pullman working)
Unidentified Man #6: (Hidden camera video) You're looking at about three hun--300 to maybe 500 graphs, if that, probably more like three or 400 graphs, I think the doctors would--would--would--would say.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Bosley maintains a consultation with a doctor would have happened before surgery actually began. But Jeff never met a doctor before being scheduled for surgery.
(Hidden tape video)
Unidentified Woman #1: (Hidden camera video) I have Wednesday available.
Dr. BOSLEY: If that's accurate, I'm very concerned. And that's a hundred percent against our policy. If we were to find that there was a doctor or a medical assistant who was pushing patients toward moving forward with the procedure, that doctor or medical assistant wouldn't be with us anymore.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) How aggressively do they push? In Jeff's case, he was never told it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to treat future hair loss.
Mr. BOGGS: They tell you that--that occasionally they--their diagnosis has to be revised somewhat, and there's `touch-up work,' they call it.
HANSEN: How much touch-up work did they end up doing on you?
Mr. BOGGS: Seven surgeries of touch-up work.
HANSEN: Seven surgeries?
Mr. BOGGS: Seven surgeries. Seven different procedures and $50,000 later.
Dr. SZASLO: That was the idea. Get them in. Get them started. Get them hooked.
Dr. SZASLO: The SMAs were paid a--a contractual amount per month, plus bonuses for the number of patients they would quote, "Put in the chair," unquote.
Mr. COX: I would call it commission.
HANSEN: Selling medical procedures on commission is considered unethical by every doctor we spoke to. The danger, critics say, is that if SMAs are motivated by money, then surgery can be overprescribed, risks glossed over, results exaggerated. Whatever it takes to sign up a new patient.
(Voiceover) Still, Dr. Bosley says there are no commissions, just incentives.
(Dr. Bosley being interviewed)
Dr. BOSLEY: If you work hard, and we build the practice, and the practice grows, I'll give you raises in pay. That's how our SMAs are incentified.
HANSEN: Isn't that a semantic difference?
Dr. BOSLEY: You're after this like a dog after a bone, and so I'll stay with you on it. We don't have salesmen at Bosley Medical Group. We don't even want to ever hear the word `sales' mentioned in our company. We don't believe in that.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dr. Bosley contends that the charges against him are untrue. He says 99 percent of his patients are satisfied. He even hired a former investigator for the California Medical Board to do undercover spot checks at his clinics. Bosley's investigator told us he gives the clinics high marks. In fact, Dr. Bosley sees himself as the victim in this story. The victim of jealousy.
HANSEN: (Voiceover) Dr. Bosley's critics may now be feeling vindicated. This past October the California attorney general and the Los Angeles district attorney concluded an investigation into Bosley's clinics. While it did not involve the quality of medical care, they did sue Bosley for false advertising and unfair competition.
pay the total amount of $644,724
HANSEN: (Voiceover) And with the industry expanding, doctors like Manny Merritt say the bottom line for anyone considering surgery is simple.
Dr. MERRITT: Be very suspicious of anything that sounded too good to be true. It's sounds like--like just like what you need. And what you could be buying for yourself is a lifetime of trouble.