Investigation: Medtronic paid millions to surgeons; ghostwrote papers

Over at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, John Fauber updates Side Effects, his long-running investigation into conflicts of interest, with coverage of a Senate inquiry which Fauber’s work helped inspire.

The Senate investigation, led by the familiar bipartisan duo of Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley (2,315-page PDF | press release), involved the review of about 5,000 pages of documents from medical device maker Medtronic (a frequent subject of Fauber’s reporting) over the course of 16 months.

Fauber, who is uniquely qualified to do so, summarized the report’s key findings:

Medtronic marketing employees were secretly involved in drafting and editing favorable medical journal articles about the company’s lucrative back surgery product while the company paid millions to the surgeons whose names lent weight to the studies, documents from a U.S. Senate investigation reveal.

The company’s undisclosed manipulation of information about its genetically engineered spine surgery product, Infuse, included overstating its benefits and downplaying concerns about serious complications.

Over the course of 15 years, Medtronic paid $210 million to a group of 13 doctors and two corporations linked to doctors, including more than $34 million to University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon Thomas Zdeblick, who co-authored a series of papers about the product.

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