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Study Finds that Half of Spine Surgery Financial Disclosures are Inaccurate

Jan 21, 2014

Transparency in financial disclosures have become increasingly important, especially in the fields of orthopedic and spine surgery. A law that is to be implemented this year, the Physicians Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA), is requiring manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biological products and medical supplies to report all payments to doctors over $10. In expectation of this, one study sought to determine current discrepancies between physician financial disclosures and industry-reported payments.

The study, published in the December 1st issue of The Spine Journal, was conducted by Rafael A. Buerba and colleagues at the Department of Orthopedics & Rehabilitation at the Yale University School of Medicine. The participants in the study were physicians that participated in the 2011 North American Spine Society (NASS); 12.1 and 8.75 percent of NASS participants disclosed financial ties to Medtronic and DePuy Spine, respectively. These disclosures were compared to the payment reports on the DePuy Spine and Medtronic websites. The disclosure periods overlap and should have been comparable, but the researchers found inconsistencies about half the time. The study reported that 54.2 percent of Medtronic’s disclosure were inaccurate, based on NASS disclosures. Based on DePuy Spine payment listings, there were discrepancies in 30 percent of participant disclosures.

"This is concerning given the passage of the PPSA as well as the increased public visibility of potential discrepancies,” Buerba and his team wrote.

Transparency about financial ties has become increasingly important, especially following the controversy over Medtronic Infuse Bone Graft. In June 2011, a group of experts dedicated an entire issue of The Spine Journal to Infuse and its unreported side effects. According to the authors, the doctors who were paid by Medtronic never mentioned that 10 to 50 percent of participants experienced cancer, male sterility, infections, bone dissolution and increased back and leg pain. To make matters worse for Medtronic, a subsequent government investigation found that the Medtronic-funded studies were biased. A report by the United States Senate Finance Committee found that Medtronic employees helped write and edit 11 out of 13 studies.

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