Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BLOGSCAN - Medtronic's Multi-Million Dollar Payments to Spine Surgeons

Starting in 2007, we discussed the huge payments made by four medical device companies to orthopedic surgeons and medical organizations related to the use of hip and knee prostheses.  (See post here with links backward.)  Payments, in the millions of dollars per year range, went to surgeons including noted academics, and leaders of the main orthopedic physicians' society.  Payments went to medical schools, teaching hospitals, and professional societies.  Many of these financial relationships were not disclosed, and the disclosures that were made rarely indicated the amounts involved.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports millions being paid to spine surgeons by Medtronic in connection with devices used in spinal fusion.  See Dr Howard Brody's discussion here on the Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma blog, and also Felix Salmon's discussion here on the Felix Salmon blog.

What seems lacking is a clear rationale for any payments, much less for payments of the sizes listed.  The WSJ article cited a Medtronic spokesperson, "surgeons' device-development work goes beyond mere consulting when the company deems that they are contributing valuable intellectual property to a product. But that intellectual property doesn't necessarily have to be patented."  The reporters found, "search of spine-device patents awarded to the Norton surgeons turned up about a dozen total for Drs. Puno, Johnson, Campbell and Dimar, most owned by companies other than Medtronic. The search turned up no patents for Dr. Glassman."  So what intellectual property that was not or could not be patented could be worth millions a year?

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