Trend: Regulators pay more attention to implant firm payments to doctors

For years, it's been an accepted practice for hip- and knee-replacement manufacturers to pay surgeons big bucks in the form of royalties, consulting gigs and speaker's fees, sometimes hitting seven-figure levels. Along the way, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds, almost doubling over the past 10 years to about 750,000 operations a year. However, lately these payments have come under much closer scrutiny, with federal regulators and members of Congress raising concerns about these practices. 

While payments to surgeons who actually design and patent artificial joints and other medical devices may be legitimate, most other payments are facing harsh criticism--particularly because some of these payments, lush travel arrangements mislabeled as seminars and other fees, are doled to surgeons who do little or no work. Prosecutions are beginning in some cases. For example, last year a U.S. attorney in New Jersey filed criminal complaints arguing that four of the largest artificial-joint makers conspired to violate federal anti-kickback rules by paying surgeons to specify their devices. The companies, Biomet Inc., DePuy Orthopaedics, Smith & Nephew and Zimmer Holdings, paid a total of $310 million to settle the charges.

Now, some members of Congress are working on a bill which would require surgeons to disclose which of these companies are paying them, and how much. Their argument is that if the doctors are genuinely cooperating with device-makers to perfect products, patients would actually be happy to know about their expertise.

To learn more about the growing pressure on the device industry:
- read this Philadelphia Inquirer piece

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