Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a chilling story on the prevalence of doctor-owned medical device companies and the conflicts of interest that arise when doctors are implanting medical devices whose sales they profit from.
The heart of the story involved a 48-year old Baptist preacher named Gary Steven Moore. Moore died on the operating room table in the midst of a 360-degree spinal fusion surgery. Medically speaking, Moore was a poor candidate for spinal fusion surgery because he had had 11 previous bowel surgeries and suffered from diabetes and heart disease.
But Moore’s surgeon, Dr. Adam Lewis, recommended the surgery to Moore, never disclosing that he was part owner of a company named Spinal USA, whose hardware would be implanted during the surgery. On this single surgery, Spinal USA would earn tens of thousands of dollars for its hardware.
Unfortunately, the specter of doctors profiting from the medical hardware they use during surgery is not an uncommon one. Doctors are able to get around anti-kickback laws by starting small medical device companies of their own. And the FDA’s 510(k) loophole, which allows medical device makers to market products without FDA approval if they resemble devices already on the market, means that it is cheap for doctors to do so.
As The Wall Street Journal story noted:
Critics of such arrangements say they give surgeons an incentive to do more operations, and that the conflict of interest has led to a spate of unnecessary back surgeries that waste health-care dollars and often do patients more harm than good. “Patients are having huge operations that are un-indicated because of this,” says Scott Lederhaus, a neurosurgeon in Pomona, Calif., and member of the Association for Medical Ethics, an organization of doctors that focuses on conflicts of interest.
According to a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General, at least twenty states are home to surgeon-owned medical device companies. And these companies are branching out, from spine surgery to hip, knee and cardiac surgery.
It’s bad enough to be a victim of medical malpractice. But when the surgery was unnecessary in the first place — that’s the worst kind of medical malpractice.