Do medical device reps pose an ethical conflict to doctors?

Patients rely on their doctors to make medical diagnoses and to recommend medications and/or medical devices for their conditions. Yet given the amount of money at stake in the medical device industry, could a conflict of interest arise between doctors and sales reps? Are doctors trained on medical device implants?

According to a recent article, medical device sales representatives may be placing surgeons in an ethically precarious situation. The article questioned whether doctors are relying on device reps for technical expertise, even inviting them into operating rooms during patient surgeries.

Notably, there are lawsuits arising out of this very fact scenario. One 2006 case alleged that a surgeon’s mistake during a brain surgery resulted from faulty advice about the bone cement, provided by the salesperson during the procedure. In a 2003 case, a medical device manufacturer pleaded guilty to recommending a surgery technique to doctors involving an abdominal device implant, even thought the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had never approved the technique.

Many patients may have been unaware the medical device reps were present during their surgery. Direct physical contact between salespersons and doctors during an operation could also be unethical under hospital and state licensing board policies, or even illegal under applicable state laws.

It’s not a big leap to imagine a complaint being lodged with the State Board of Medicine regarding the contact between a doctor and a device sales rep. If you are a medical professional facing this situation, you should consult with an experienced professional license defense attorney to protect your professional standing. An investigation and licensing board hearing can be intimidating without a legal advocate by your side.

Source: Washington Post, “Why is that salesman in the operating room for your knee replacement?” Sandra G. Boodman, Nov. 14, 2016

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