Medical Device Companies Pay Docs $800 million

A federal investigation into the relationship between medical device companies such as knee and hip replacement manufacturers and the orthopedic surgeons who use these devices has revealed a murky, ethically challenging, and sometimes illegal relationship between the two. Four of the world’s largest medical device manufacturers got caught up in this investigation and agreed to pay $131 million to settle the federal probe. The companies included Zimmer Holdings Inc., Depuy Orthopaedics Inc., Biomet Inc., and Smith & Nephew Inc. A fifth company, Stryker Corporation, cooperated with the federal government and was able to avoid paying fines. However, just last month Stryker received a subpoena from the criminal division of the Justice Department regarding possible bribes to foreign officials in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Stryker’s problems are not solely the criminal probes. Stryker had to recall its Trident PSL and Trident Hemispherical Acetabular Cups used in hip replacement surgery. The recall came one week after the FDA issued a warning letter about manufacturing defects in Stryker’s New Jersey plant.
When doctors are receiving fees for choosing a particular medical device the ethical lines become very blurry quite quickly. This is what prompted the federal probe. Doctors have an ethical duty to pursue what is best for the patient regardless of his/her “consulting relationship with a medical device company. If doctors receive consulting fees with companies who make the devices the doctors are using to implant in patients that relationship must be monitored and evaluated. “Although many of these payments were for legitimate services, others were not,” Gregory E. Demske, assistant inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told a Senate panel last month.