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The Hip Replacement Case Shows Why Doctors Often Remain Silent – NYTimes.com.
Doctors Who Don’t Speak Out
By BARRY MEIER
Published: February 15, 2013
THE note sent by a doctor to several executives at Johnson & Johnson was blunt: an artificial hip sold by the company was so poorly designed that the company should slow its marketing until it understood why patients were getting hurt.
Andrew Testa for The New York Times
A faulty hip replacement a doctor removed from a patient.
The doctor, who also worked as a consultant to Johnson & Johnson, wrote the note nearly two years before the company recalled the device in 2010. And it was far from the only early warning those executives got from doctors who were paid consultants. Still, the company’s DePuy orthopedic unit plowed ahead, and those consultants never sounded a public alarm to other doctors, who kept implanting the device.
The memos have recently emerged during the trial of the first of more than 10,000 patient lawsuits brought against Johnson & Johnson over the hip implant device, the Articular Surface Replacement, or A.S.R. The company has insisted that it acted responsibly in determining when to halt its sale. But plaintiffs’ lawyers have offered a portrait of executives who put profits ahead of patients, even scuttling a plan to fix the implant because it cost too much.
It might not be surprising to find that executives acted to protect a company’s bottom line. Still, the Johnson & Johnson episode is also illuminating a broader medical issue: while experts say that doctors have an ethical obligation to warn their peers about bad drugs or medical devices, they often do not do so.
“Questioning the status quo in medicine is not easy,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a professor at Yale School of Medicine.
Physicians may remain silent for a variety of reasons, he and other experts said. They may fear that speaking out could get them sued or believe that a product problem was an anomaly or their fault.
Doctors also have an aversion to reporting. For instance, while the Food and Drug Administration relies on physicians to help monitor product safety by alerting the agency to adverse patient reactions, doctors usually do not make such filings, saying they are too busy for the paperwork.
“The standard in the medical community is not to report,” said Dr. Robert Hauser, a cardiologist who, along with a colleague, warned other doctors in 2005 about a defective heart implant.
There is another reason doctors may choose to remain silent, experts say: their financial ties to a drug or device maker.
For years, such consulting payments have raised concerns about the impact of money on a doctor’s decision about which drugs to prescribe or how to interpret research findings. Money can also shift a physician’s sense of loyalty, said George Loewenstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied medical conflict-of-interest policies. “If someone has been paying you or employing you, it is very difficult to blow the whistle,” said Professor Loewenstein, who teaches economics and psychology. “It offends our sense of loyalty.”
Dr. Krumholz said he also believed that such loyalties were between a doctor and a company’s executives, rather than with a company or its brand. Over time, a physician may come to see his relationships with those officials in terms of friendship, while companies see an influential doctor as an asset who helps develop products and boost sales.
For a consultant, breaking those ties can carry a cost. For example, when Dr. Lawrence D. Dorr, an orthopedic specialist, warned fellow surgeons in an open letter in 2008 that a hip implant made by Zimmer Holdings was flawed, he became the subject of a whisper campaign that questioned his skills as a surgeon.
“The first thing that a company does is to put out a campaign that a surgeon does not know how to operate,” said Dr. Dorr, who was a consultant to Zimmer when he wrote the letter. “It hurt my practice for a year.”
TRADITIONALLY, doctors have brought problems to the attention of colleagues by conducting research and publishing their findings in a medical journal. The advantage of that system helps ensure the credibility of study data and protects a researcher from random attack, said Dr. David Blumenthal, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, a group that studies health policy issues.
But getting a study published can take a year or two; some Johnson & Johnson consultants did publish studies about the hip’s flaws, but they largely appeared after it had been recalled.
Dr. Blumenthal said there was probably a need for more immediate ways for doctors to share their concerns, like forums supported by professional medical organizations. Another approach would be to have companies hire doctors as consultants whose sole concern was product safety, Professor Loewenstein said.
The results of not speaking out are playing out in a Los Angeles courtroom, where the first Johnson & Johnson hip case is unfolding. In the years before the implant’s recall, a British physician, Dr. Antoni Nargol, and a colleague were among those who tried to alert surgeons to the problem.
But the silence of other doctors apparently gave company executives the upper hand; in meetings with Dr. Nargol, they said that he seemed to be the only doctor having trouble.
He said recently, “They told me there were no other problems.”
Barry Meier is a reporter who covers business and medicine for The New York Times.
- The Hip Replacement Case Shows Why Doctors Often Remain Silent – NYTimes.com (earlsview.com)
- What DePuy Orthopaedics Knew About Its All-Metal Hips – NYTimes.com (earlsview.com)
- J&J again recalls thousands of faulty hip implants – US News and World Report (earlsview.com)
- Patients victims of untested medical devices – SFGate (earlsview.com)
- DePuy Recall News: The Rottenstein Law Group Responds to Another Johnson & Johnson Metal-on-Metal Hip Implant Recall (prweb.com)
- Hip Implant’s Risks Inadequately Assessed, DePuy Report Found in 2010 – NYTimes.com (earlsview.com)
- Johnson & Johnson Again Recalls Thousands Of Faulty Hip Implants (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Johnson & Johnson Recalls Thousands of Hip Implants – ABC News (earlsview.com)
- Price for a New Hip? Many Hospitals Are Stumped – NYTimes.com (washtenawcms.wordpress.com)
- DePuy Pinnacle Hip Replacement Lawsuit Reviews Being Offered by Bernstein Liebhard LLP (prweb.com)
Timothy Petri said:
Not surprising, but amazing. As anyone who has experienced problems with implants and had difficulty getting their doctor to act on you’re behalf;-( ie not repairing failed implants, ignoring complaints, downplaying pain, applying blame to you, etc..).will testify, it happens often. The real shocker is not the loyalty to the money maker, sugar shaker executives with whom the doctors have become friends with. The real shocker is the absence of loyalty to human life. At some point in treatment, these non-reporting doctors have made a conscious decision to put their earning potential above the human life. Thats the real crime. A moral malfunction by thousands of highly educated, oath taking, medical doctors, Man, do I know how that feels. Its a let down on several levels. We all reap what we sow, and even the highly educated cannot avoid this law. Stay tuned.
Well put. You should be an author!
Timothy Petri said:
Haha! Thanks Earl. I think I am just good at putting what is in my head into words, thats all. I love to write though. Actually, funny that you mention that since my mom (mum)? is an author and has 4 published books, also was an editor for a large weekly magazine in Chicago years ago. Maybe I got some of her genes in that area…
Jil Cleggett said:
Excellent well written and compelling argument, as to why ‘The silence’ when the opposite should be the Norm. Comes back again and again to the almighty dollar, coupled with ‘Who might be offended’ when truth talks. Perhaps a lesson learnt? from the Medical Fraternity. I for one am so thrilled that I have a great GP, accompanied by
great professionals who are believed by some sectors of Society and validate what has been well proven Only the brave speak up and speak out., when ostracized by the sectors that are meant to help, not hinder, or put band aid over wounds.
Well there you go – what are you waiting for. You have some time on your hands… My mum was a writer too – same birthdays too!!!
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