Each year between 2003 and 2007, University of Wisconsin spine surgeon Thomas Zdeblick told the school he received $20,000 or more from Medtronic, the nation’s largest producer of spinal devices.
His disclosure was consistent with university policies which do not require scientists to specify the amount received if it exceeds $20,000.
But Republican Senator Charles Grassley, who has raised exposing conflicts of interest in health care to an art form, just informed the University that Zdeblick raked in an astounding $19 million from Medtronic over that period.
“I am concerned that Wisconsin’s reporting requirements do not go far enough to fully capture a physician’s potential conflict of interest,” Grassley understated in a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
Robert Golden, the medical school dean had no choice but to come clean. He agreed the University’s disclosure policies were “indefensible,” and vowed to toughen them up.
“Clearly there is a big difference between $20,000 and $20 million,” Golden told the Journal.
Charles Rosen, a spine surgeon who is president of the Association for Medical Ethics, said Wisconsin’s disclosure policies were in line with other medical schools, for whatever that’s worth.
“When you are advocating devices or procedures, it can’t be said this is a private matter and that no one should know how much this company is paying me,” he told the Journal.
Zdeblick maintains he doesn’t take royalties for products he uses, and that he has informed patients of his relationships with Medtronic.
Years ago, Medtronic employees accused the company of inducing surgeons to use its spinal devices with perks and payoffs. In 2006, Medtronic paid $40 million to settle the allegations. As part of the settlement, employees dropped their claims and Medtronic denied unlawful behavior.