Monday, January 26, 2009

Is Device Industry Shaping Up?

According to Barry Meier in the New York Times--

--the medical device industry has started to get the message that they have an ethics problem on their hands and need to clean up their act.

Admittedly the message might be hard to miss, when the nation's biggest manufacturers of surgical-implant hip and knee prostheses are all under Justice Dept. monitoring and ordered to post on the Internet how much they are paying each physician with whom they consult or contract. Nonetheless, if Meier's story is to be believed, the industry is taking a hard look at itself and actually changing its practices--at least in the direction of greater disclosure and transparency.

Meier reports that the Justice Dept. investigations showed that the majority of financial contacts between the makers and the docs were on the up and up. An example, apparently, from the article, was an orthopedist in Kingston, PA, who had previously given courses in which he trained his peers how to use the implants manufactured by Zimmer Holdings. In 2007, Zimmer abruptly called him and cancelled his next set of scheduled training workshops. Only recently did they call him back and start to reschedule him. In other cases, consulting fees are apparently paid for legitimate consulting that leads to new product development or old product improvement.

Nonetheless, Justice found enough evidence of illegitimate payments--basically bribes for using large volumes of a company's product exclusively--that the firms caved in and did not oppose the settlement. Perhaps today, the legitimate contacts will continue and the others will start to go by the boards. (Comments welcome from those who have any insider experience, which I certainly do not!)

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