The Justice Department is investigating consulting agreements between orthopedic device companies and orthopedic surgeons. The probe is narrow so far, focusing on whether the companies pay some doctors who don’t provide meaningful consulting services.
The probe is likely to bring increased scrutiny to the orthopedic market, and the industry would be wise to prepare now to explain its common practices to the general public, who will be surprised when they learn how things work. Consulting fees for doctors have been questioned in the pharmaceutical industry as well, so the initial Justice Department questions won’t arouse much public interest.
However, most people will be surprised when they learn that orthopedic sales reps are often in the operating room to assist or guide orthopedic surgeons in performing procedures, and often lend surgical tools as well. They may also be surprised that successful orthopedic sales reps can do almost as well financially as the surgeons they sell to. And the large dollar amounts of some of the consulting relationships will also be surprising.
There is a business and medical rationale for all of this, but it will take a skilled public relations effort to explain. It’s easy to imagine how that could go awry or be neglected, in which case we’ll see much more exciting headlines than the Wall Street Journal’s “Orthopedic Firms’ Ties With Doctors Scrutinized.“April 1, 2005