Monday, September 29, 2008

Medtronic Lawsuit: Whore Meets Whore

In a bizarre but fitting variation on physician bribery, Medtronic allegedly paid for neurosurgeons to have...um...high level meetings with prostitutes. This marketing tactic, known in the industry as “whore meets whore,” was only one of a series of stomach-turning revelations in this recent article by David Armstrong of the Wall Street Journal.

Medtronic manufactures, among other things, various spinal devices, and spared no expense in bribing neurosurgeons to use its products in spinal surgery cases. The suit alleges that neurosurgeons such as Jeffrey Wang, now director of the Universityof California at Los Angeles's Comprehensive Spine Center, were taken to Memphis’s Platinum Plus strip club, which was eventually shut down because it ran a whore-house. Dr. Wang denies such trips.

Another surgeon named in the suit is Hallett Mathews. According to a former Medtronic attorney, Dr. Mathews was paid $450,000 a year under a sham“consulting agreement.” Apparently, Dr. Mathews brought so much money into the company by using its spinal devices that he was given a Medtronic credit card. Bribery is much easier when you cut out the middle man.

Then there were the Alaskan “think tank” trips. Here’s how these are alleged to have worked. First, Memphis neurosurgeon Maurice Smith was given a pre-paid 10 year “consulting” contract. His job duties had little to do with helping patients, however. Instead, he specialized in planning annual all-expenses-paid trips to Alaska. The doctors were supposed to present case studies during the trips but evidently they were too busy enjoying themselves to bother with such niceties. According the Journal:

Ms. Kelley [the former Medtronic attorney] alleges Medtronic sent physicians on lavish trips under the guise of medical conferences, but where little work was done. Her complaint claims that on a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Alaska in 2001, which was billed as a "think tank," doctors were supposed to present case studies. But, according to the complaint, little discussion of the case studies took place. One doctor scheduled to give a talk stood before the group, "said he was sorry, but he had not prepared anything," and "drinking then commenced in place of discussion," Ms. Kelley said in the suit. Medtronic picked up the cost of fishing guides and clothing for the doctors, the suit said. It said "women were also provided for the doctors," but didn't elaborate.

Evidently, spinal surgeons were partial to New Orleans, and Medtronic was happy to let the good times roll during Mardi Gras:

At a Medtronic-sponsored "discussion group" in New Orleans, according to the complaint, the company paid $20,000 to $25,000 to get a group of doctors on a Mardi Gras parade float and another $15,000 to supply doctors with Mardi Gras beads.

In this embarrassing statement responding to the article,
Medtronic begins by scolding the Wall Street Journal for reporting the allegations, which were supposed to have remained hidden from the public in a “sealed” lawsuit. Then, they refuse to admit any wrongdoing, saying only that “allegations of inappropriate business practices described in the article are said to have occurred years ago.” Then, they assure us that “the company has put more rigorous systems and processes in place to assure alignment with these standards, identify any break from standards, and address behavior that is in violation.” But if they had done nothing wrong, why did they have to beef up their internal reviews? They don’t get around to answering this question in their statement.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is breath-taking. Absolutely over the top. I am speechless. We live in a post-superego age. Sorry to use a psychoanalytic term -- I know it is passe' these days. But what other term applies to this depressing mess?

MedInformaticsMD said...

Medtronic regrets that The Wall Street Journal chose to publish allegations

You bet they regret it.

I want to know the names of the surgeons. They probably regret it, too.

dr.natura said...

What do a Memphis gentlemen's club, trips to Alaska and ill-gotten patent royalties have in common? They're all perks that Medtronic gave to doctors, according to a lawsuit brought by a former Medtronic lawyer. The incentives were handed out by the company's $3 billion spinal devices unit, which has already been under investigation for its physician relationships.

Anonymous said...

MEDTRONIC'S ENVELOPE-PUSHING PRODUCTS SAVED MY MOTHER'S LIFE...
I SAY: "PARTY ON!"

Anonymous said...

many a crook can be found in the halls of a hospitals OR wing... in particular these spine surgeons. I've witnessed first hand how consulting agreements translate into 100% medtronic contracts with hospitals. With so much money at stake it's worth the risk for these guys, most of whom think they are above the law as it is

Anonymous said...

I have been following all articles on Medtronic closely. My mother was talked into using the in-fuse bonegraft procuct in her cervical spinal fusion surgery last August, we were told it was FDA approved and that the only possible side effect COULD be some swelling and difficulty swallowing, there was absolutely NO mention of any life threatening complications nor were we told about the warning put out by the FDA just 1 month prior telling Dr's not to use the product in the neck area. My mom got thorugh the surgery fine, but on the 3rd day post-op her neck was grossly swollen and she started complaining non stop that she was having trouble breathing. We tried desperatly all day to get someone to do something and were told by the doctor (over the phone) that she just felt like she couldnt breathe because of the swelling, but he promised us she would be just fine. Well we got an emergency phone call at 5am because my mother had stopped breathing and by the time someone found her she had been down without oxygen for at least 12 minutes! Her throat had swollen completely shut cutting off her airway and no one responded to the call button 20 minutes earlier!!! As a result of this my mother passed away a few days later, the swelling in her throat was caused by the morphogenic protein in the infuse bone graft. She appears to be the first fatality due to this, but it never should have happened!! The FDA warning was about this exact scenario and yet all of her pleas were completely ignored?? I have lost my best friend and my father lost his sole mate of more than 60 years!! Where does it end??

Anonymous said...

I also had BMP in a cervical spine surgery. three days later my throat was swollen and I had difficulty swallowing and eating, I had emergency surgery and thought everything would be better, instead 5 years later I am still suffering, I am still here but in many ways my family has lost me and I have lost any resemblance of my former life. My dr. also had received the FDA report warning against it but called it a special glue that they are having a lot of success with (as in it's making millions for their hospital) I will have to live with this complete coverup for the rest of my life.