Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When A $600,000 Salary Just Isn't Enough

No silly, I'm not talking about anesthesiologists. I'm here to discuss the shenanigans of spine surgeons. They are among the highest paid physicians in America. Their average salary is greater than $600,000 a year. Yet that much money apparently isn't enough for some spine surgeons. First we had reports of surgeons committing Medicare fraud by operating on the same patient's spine multiple times. Now we have this, surgeons who receive millions of dollars from a medical device maker for publishing "research" that are favorable to the company but don't disclose their monetary ties to that company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Medtronic has been marketing a bone growth device called the Infuse Bone Graft for spinal surgery. Infuse has been written up by multiple surgeons approving of its efficacy and lack of serious side effects. However, many of the surgeons didn't report that they received money from Medtronic. In fact, one editor of the research papers, Dr Thomas Zdeblick of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Publich Health, has received $24 million from Medtronic since 2001. He did not disclose his financial ties to the company in any of the papers he worked on. Other surgeons noted in the article also received millions from Medtronic for producing flattering papers about Medtronic's products without noting any serious morbidities. Dr. Kenneth Burkus from Columbus, GA even solicited Medtronic's input into a draft of a research paper he was writing about Infuse. Dr. Burkus has received $4 million from Medtronic since 2001.

What are some of these side effects that the surgeons are not disclosing in their papers? How about cancer? In a product up for review by the FDA, a similar Medtronic product called Amplify was found to have a 90-95% probability of causing cancer in the patient. That information was not written in the published papers. Infuse related side effects include cancer, sterility, infection, and bone dissolution in up to 10-50% of patients. Again that was papered over.

The surgeons and Medtronic say that their payments from the company are not related to their research. That may be so. But it's hard to tell when there is so much stench emanating from these so called independently conducted articles.

1 comment:

  1. I knew Ken Burkus in high school. When I stumbled upon this and another article about Medtronic, it did not surprise me at all. He's a narcissist through and through. I suppose the rest of the story is that he paid no price at all for this.