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Medtronic on defensive for high-dollar royalty payments to docs

Senior Medtronic officials are undoubtedly proud of their company's reputation as a preeminent medical device maker.

They're certainly not as enamored, though, of high-profile publicity the company has received recently that, among other things, calls it "a flash point in a national debate about the role of money in medicine."

Paying out $90 million in royalties last year to doctors will garner such attention.

What has even more specifically put a laser-type spotlight on the device maker is the nearly $61 million it paid out to doctor researchers last year for their involvement in studies on what has been termed "a controversial spinal product."

That product is called Infuse, and a number of doctors have gushed enthusiastically about its effectiveness as a bone-growth system.

What is raising eyebrows is the disconnect between their endorsement -- which has struck many critics as overly effusive -- and subsequent history involving Infuse. Although the product is credited with helping many patients deal with back pain, it has also been the target of several thousand plaintiffs who have filed device-related personal injury and product liability lawsuits. Reportedly, Medtronic is the named defendant in more than 6,000 filed and pending claims.

The central question that is being asked is whether there is some impropriety attached to paying huge sums of money to doctor researchers relating to studies that have been materially discredited following their release. As noted in a media article discussing the Medtronic-physician link, "at least 11 studies that omitted key safety data were written by doctors who were paid millions in royalties from Medtronic."

That type of finding will certainly provoke some adverse publicity.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "New federal data shine a light on Medtronic payments to doctors," Joe Carlson and Jim Spencer, July 11, 2015

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