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Medtronic's Payments to Doctors Raises Questions about the Role of Money in Medicine

Jul 14, 2015

Federal data show that Medtronic still makes payments to doctors over InFuse, a controversial spine product that has prompted questions about industry-funded research. Star Tribune reports that 79 doctors and their affiliates received a total of $60.7 million from Medtronic Sofamor Danek, the company's spine division, in 2014. Some of the money went to doctors who authored disputed studies promoting InFuse.

InFuse is an artificial bone growth product that is used to stimulate bone growth in the spine. The product became controversial a few years ago when a group of researchers publicly denounced multiple InFuse studies that omitted side effects. At least 11 Medtronic-funded studies failed to mention key side effects, and authors received millions in royalties.

Dr. Michael Carome, health research director at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen said "The goal of these kinds of fees is to influence prescribing behavior," according to Star Tribune. He also stated that the payments are "in the financial interests of the company and the physicians," and "not in the best interest of the patients."

InFuse is is the subject of a number of lawsuits. Medtronic has admitted that the product carries risks such as unexpected bone growth and sexual dysfunction in men, according to Star Tribune. Medtronic claims that the royalties fuel innovation, but Dr. Larry Teuber, a South Dakota neurosurgeon raises skepticism about this claim always being true. "Remember, the markup on these devices is huge," said Teuber, according to Star Tribune. "The reason they pay money is to get these guys to use their implants. Royalties are just another twist in the story."

Security filings show that Medtronic is facing over 6,000 patient injury lawsuits. Star Tribune reports that the company has settled 950 cases for an average of $23,000 each and allocated $140 million for upcoming litigation.

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