The relationship between a medical device maker and spine surgeons at Norton Hospital came under scrutiny in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal revealed five surgeons at Norton have received a total of about $7,000,000 from Medtronic for helping design spinal fusion equipment.
Spine fusion is an expensive procedure, often requiring up to $30,000 in materials. Medtronic told the Wall Street Journal the company can’t develop improved products without the help of surgeons.
Dr. Steven Glassman of Norton was quoted in the article, saying the surgeons don’t get paid when they actually use the products in surgery. Dr. Glassman said all patients are informed of their ties to Medtronic.
Norton Healthcare released a statement that reads:
“Norton Healthcare understands the importance of collaboration between medical device manufacturers and practicing physicians, providing an invaluable source of input in the development of better products that enhance the quality of patient care and patient outcomes. We believe that policies are in place to prevent direct conflicts of interest and we expect both the policies and the doctors practicing at Norton Healthcare to maintain the integrity and ethical conduct of their practices.”
Wall Street Journal also reports that a large part of many surgeons’ income lies in consulting and royalty agreements with device makers. While some studies say spinal fusion isn’t necessary for degenerative disk disease, Dr. Glassman said one study shows a significant improvement in fused patients’ back pain, leg pain and other quality of life measures. These results were confirmed both one and two years after their surgery. Even greater improvement was seen in those over the age of 65.
The use of spine fusion has exploded in the past decade as more doctors perform the procedure.