Surgeons make millions on Medtronic payroll

Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device maker, hit the motherlode with a bioengineered bone growth protein widely used since 2002 in spinal fusion surgery.  Known as INFUSE® Bone Graft, it’s a genetically engineered version of a protein that’s naturally released by the body and used during surgery to stimulate bone growth – for example, in order to strengthen the lower spine by fusing two adjacent vertebrae together.

But Medtronic forgot to mention that many of its favourable studies published about INFUSE had been drafted and edited by its own employees (including marketing department staff, in a practice called medical ghostwriting) while 13 physicians claiming to be the study authors had been paid $210 million by Medtronic over a 15-year period, according to a U.S. Senate investigation. Continue reading

Cardiac society gets half of its funding from stent industry

While recent lawsuits and research studies have raised questions about why some stent-happy cardiologists are implanting the tiny metal devices into the hearts of those who don’t need them, the group representing the doctors who implant those stents relies heavily on income from the very folks who make them. So say the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists over at ProPublica.

For example, the Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) received 57% of its total revenues in 2009 from medical device and pharmaceutical makers, according to financial information on the group’s website.

Industry contributions to the society’s budget covered $4.7 million of the $8.2 million it received that year.

The group’s biggest funders are in fact the companies with the biggest share of the stent market: Cordis Corp. (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Boston Scientific, Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic.

Researchers who study conflicts of interest in medicine say medical societies that receive a lot of industry support are susceptible to taking positions that either promote their sponsors’ products or downplay their risks. 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