Surgeon questions study led by U doc with Medtronic tie

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A California spine surgeon who leads a medical ethics organization has written to the Army Surgeon General raising questions about a 2002 Army study that used Medtronic spine products on soldiers in ways not approved by federal regulators.

One of the physicians leading the study at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was Dr. David Polly, now chief of the spine unit at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Although Polly was not a Medtronic consultant while at Walter Reed, his subsequent relationship with the medical device giant has come under scrutiny from congressional investigators after he was paid at least $1.2 million by the company between 2003 and 2007.

The letter from Dr. Charles Rosen, president of the Association for Medical Ethics, is the latest chapter in a bitter controversy over financial ties between doctors and medical device companies, a ruckus that has ensnared the nation’s top military hospital. Device companies argue that the feedback they receive from doctors is crucial to make their products better. But critics like Rosen claim these often-lucrative relationships pose a conflict of interest and can skew the care doctors provide patients.

This month, a St. Paul neurosurgeon, Dr. Charles Burton, joined the argument, saying on his website that he is “outraged” by the Walter Reed study and troubled by excessive consulting fees paid to doctors by medical device companies.

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