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Physician: First Do No Harm..Profit is Secondary?


“Quid pro quo” happens in business all the time. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Usually, the exchange is relatively even and the result doesn’t really cause any harm to anyone… or at least any harm of real consequence.

But, give me a million dollars for my “quo” and your “quid” must be huge!

That is what is happening between doctors and medical device manufacturers. Both drug companies and medical device manufacturers have been playing this game for decades. Whether it is a case in which the doctor gets paid for putting their name on an article they did not write and supporting the latest, greatest drug or they are paid for “consulting fees” that result in the doctor’s support of a particular new medical device. The result is the same – a respected name gets attached to the latest, greatest widget and sales rise.

The Chicago Tribune reports that “orthopedic surgeons have received hundreds of millions of dollars from joint implant manufacturers…” Yes. You read that correctly – hundreds with six 0’s following them.

In 2007, device manufacturers were told they were going to be required to disclose payments made like this; so, since then the total amounts in tribute paid has dropped, while the amount of individual payments has gone up. So, manufacturers are simply being more selective in choosing “which” doctor and agreeable to paying a 40 % higher amount of “tribute” to each. The average payments per doctor have risen from $212,740 to $233,108; with some individual payments being as high as $1 million according to an analysis of statistics by Dr. Robert Steinbrook from Yale University School of Medicine.

Dr. Steinbrook notes that conflicts of interest continue as recently reported in The Spine Journal, in connection with a Medtronic clinical trial for recombinant bone morphogenetic protein:

“Financial information was available for 12 of the 13 original studies: “the median-known financial associations between the authors and Medtronic Inc were found to be approximately $12,000,000 to $16,000,000 per study (range, $560 000-$23 500 000). An editorial noted ‘a rising, if not malignant, doubt about the spine field’s ability to honestly assess and report on clinical practice and new technologies.”

Only 4% of physicians ever are treated with these bonuses by medical device manufacturers; so is it really a problem?


The way your physician makes decisions about recommending drugs and medical devices is by reading about them in journals, going to conferences, and hearing about them from manufacturer sales representatives. The sales reps are a given that the information is slanted in favor of the manufacturer.

So, that leaves articles and conferences.

If the respected men and women in a given field are willing to receive payment for supporting a particular medical device or drug by making speeches at conferences or by talking to fellow physicians at them, then we are down to journal articles. We have already read the reports about articles being ghost written by marketing professionals and “experts” being paid to add their names as authors.

Who can your physician trust? Your physician who is simply trying to provide the best care he or she can – how do they make the best judgments of which device is the best and which new drug is the most effective? They read. They listen. The problem is…who are they listening to?

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