Monday, January 30, 2006

Medtronic's Payments to Doctors: "Too Damn Lucrative to Believe Anyone Can Resist"

The New York Times reported allegations about the payments device manufacturers have made to physicians.

Documents came from a whistle-blower lawsuit which charged that Medtronic Inc., the medical device manufacturer, gave sugeons "excessive remuneration, unlawful perqueisites and bribes in other forms for purchasing goods and medical devices."

The Times reported that the documents show that:

Medtronic spent at least $50 million on payments to doctors over some four years, through June or later in 2005.
Medtronic played host at medical conferences where the 'principal objective' was to 'induce the physician, through any financial means necessary' to use its devices.
According to Medtronic documents, the company closely tracked the use of its devices by the doctors who attended the conferenences, choosing some for 'special attention.'
While payments to some doctors slowed during 2004, when the company was first under investigation, they rebounded last year.... A doctor in Virginia, Hallett Matthews, for example, made $300,000 in consulting fees in 2003, but only $75,000 in 2004. Last year, the company paid him nearly $700,000 for his consulting work through September.
Dr Matthews ... said the spike in payments was a result of a change in how he was paid, requiring him to document his work before he received any money and therefore increasing the amount he received last year. The consulting fees he got from Medtronic, he said, are compensation for his time spent away from his family and practice.
Medtronic's overtures to doctors often began when the surgeons were still in training, Ms. Poteet said. The company commonly paid for doctors to attend any of 200 professional meetings a year. If the doctors wanted to go snorkeling or play golf, the sales representatives or Medtronic employees almost invariably paid for the expense, she said.
When the doctors visited Memphis, she said, Medtronic employees would take them to a local strip club, PlatinumPlus, disguising the expenses as an evening at the ballet.
A spreadsheet compiled by Medtronic for a June 2003 meeting in Dana Point, Calif., indicated what Medtronic hoped to accomplish with each doctor attending an event....
This list of 230 or so doctors included an estimate of the dollar value of the devices each doctor used in surgery, including the value of the devices made by Medtronic. One doctor is described as 'a 100 percent compliant M.S.D. customer,' while others were cited for 'special attention.' M.S.D. referred to Medtronic Sofamor Danek, the largest competitor in the spinal device market.
Many doctors were paid consulting fees far higher than the $3,000 a day a surgeon might typically expect, documents from the legal filing suggested. Dr. Thomas A. Zdeblick, the Wisconsin surgeon, signed a 10-year contract in 1998 that required him to consult with the company for two days every three months, a total of eight days, for which he would be paid $400,000 a year, according to a copy of his contract. Those payments stopped in 2004.
The New York Times article contained some reaction to the allegations about Medtronic's interactions with physicians.

In a written response, a spokesman, Rob Clark, said, 'We take these allegations very seriously and we do not tolerate conduct that is illegal or unethical.' Consulting arrangements with doctors to improve devices, he said, 'are critical, in our view, to the delivery of state-of-the-art health care and are perfectly legal.'
On the other hand,

But even if the payments are within the law - and Medtronic has not been found guilty of any illegal activity - the increasing amounts being given to doctors distort their judgment, said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who said such industry payments were 'too damn lucrative to believe anyone can resist.'

Amen to Dr Caplan.

We surely need better mechanisms to prevent both parties, physicians and health care organizations (device makers in this case, but not limited to device makers) from partaking of such relationships, and when prevention fails, for penalizing them.


Anonymous said...

Anyone that's interested in material about Medtronic contact me

Roy M. Poses MD said...

Please note that I had to reject several comments on this post that contained unsubstantiated accusations.
If anyone reading this blog believes they have knowledge of illegal activity in the health care field, they should contact the appropriate civil authorities.

Anonymous said...

Do you know where to kind the list of our greedy brethren? I thought it was supposed to be public as part of the plea deal.


Roy M. Poses MD said...

So far, I have not been able to find such a list. There was more recent coverage of this story in the NY Times here:
But that's all I have found so far.