DePuy Orthopaedics, a company that has recently come under fire for its recall of two hip-replacement models, could find itself falling into even unkinder waters given information that the company itself made publicly available: DePuy reportedly paid over $80 million to some 200 physicians since 2009 for "promotion, research and consultation."
According to the New Haven Independent, the company was required to disclose such information "in the Justice Department agreement during a period when major medical device companies had to submit to monitoring of their financial activities," including payments to doctors. DePuy continued to provide such information even once the monitoring period had ended.
Whether or not the payments to these doctors is justified or warranted becomes largely irrelevant in the grand scheme – a potential conflict of interest remains: can a doctor objectively recommend and/or use a product despite prior payouts from that product’s company? DePuy argues that the payments to the doctors are necessary. The doctors provide invaluable research, insight and ideas that go into the development of products and devices, and as such companies like DePuy adequately compensate them for their time and effort. Additionally, it can be argued that the development and research for medical devices such as the hip-replacement implants costs millions upon millions of dollars, and often times goes unfunded by the government making the doctors even more integral to the process.
However, even if the payments are legitimate, the fact remains that doctors were compensated – often times handsomely – by the company, and those payments can influence the physician’s behavior, to-wit: perhaps a doctor chose or chooses a DePuy model over another because of real or perceived financial incentives. For example, maybe an orthopedic surgeon who "consulted" for DePuy, who had suspicion or even advanced notice of a problem with the recalled DePuy ASR hips, before the recall, kept installing the hips after such notice because of financial incentives. Whether or not that behavior negatively affects a patient may be publicly scrutinized and analyzed. Nonetheless, one wonders why DePuy continued to provide the physician information to the public; a cynic may postulate that DePuy wants the physicians known so they may be included in any litigation that may unfold because of the defective and recalled hips.