“I’m not a real doctor – but I play one on drug ads”

You may recall seeing Dr. Robert Jarvik‘s pleasant face on your TV screen a few years ago flogging Lipitor, the biggest-selling drug on the planet at that time, earning well over $12 billion a year for Pfizer – the biggest drug company on the planet.

This partnership emerged just as the company was seeking to protect Lipitor from emerging competition by cheaper generics, and just before a U.S. Congressional investigation started looking into Jarvik’s credentials and his controversial role as paid pitchman for the cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Continue reading

Remedial training for neurosurgeons: “Don’t bill for procedures you didn’t do!”

Dr. Vishal James Makker is an Oregon neurosurgeon with movie star good looks, a bedside manner that’s been described as “charming”, and a distressingly questionable track record for performing multiple spinal operations on his patients. In fact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists at ProPublica have revealed that an analysis of Medicare data shows that Makker had the highest rate of repeat surgeries in the U.S. –  a rate that’s nearly 10 times the national average.  Continue reading

Nice work if you can get it: same talk, same slides, week in, week out – at $1,500 a pop

speech purpleSince returning from Mayo Clinic and the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease training, I’ve done many public presentations on the subject of heart disease – the #1 killer of women in North America. My talks are pretty well all the same. When I tell the story of my own heart attack misdiagnosis, it never changes.  When I talk about emerging research from Mayo and other experts on women’s risk factors for developing heart disease, it’s always the same list.  When I discuss surprising symptoms and signs that you might be having a heart attack – well, you get my drift.

This is a normal public speaking reality for those who have a specific message to deliver or a unique area of expertise to share.  Same talk, same slides, different audiences.

Just ask psychiatrist Dr. Manoj Waikar, adjunct professor at Stanford University, who moonlights as a public speaker for the largest American psychiatric drug maker, Eli Lilly.  Continue reading

Is your surgeon able to understand simple instructions?

I like to think that most surgeons are very brainy people. You don’t get through all those years of university, med school and residency unless you’re able to understand instructions. Yet that’s what a puzzling 29% of orthopedic surgeons were apparently unable to do, according to a conflict-of-interest study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It all started when, in order to avoid facing legal action, several companies who manufacture hip and knee implants agreed in 2007 to publicly disclose about $270 million worth of cash payments they’d made to orthopedic surgeons.

This agreement was part of a U.S. Justice Department investigation in which prosecutors accused these companies of violating anti-kickback laws by paying the physicians to use their products. This concerned the researchers, who said they felt a duty to alert the public to potential conflicts of interest that may colour how doctors treat patients when docs are on the take from product manufacturers Continue reading