NYTimes on shady device deals and the healthcare “peace corps”

The NYTimes followed up on material from a whistleblower to report on a heart device sales force that cut some shady deals with doctors at a a Las Vegas hospital. (We’ll forgive the gambling metaphors, which start with the headline.)  

The story notes that 95 percent of the  pacemakers and defibrillators used at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada came from a company callled Biotronik. Nationally, the company only represents 5 percent of the market, the story reports. 

The devices’ sudden popularity was apparently not left to chance. In mid-2008, Biotronik hired several cardiologists who implant heart devices at the Las Vegas hospital as consultants, paying them fees that may have reached as high as $5,000 a month, company documents reviewed by The New York Times indicate. Those doctors then did the rest. Meanwhile, the hospital’s chief executive said she never asked during the hospital’s switch to Biotronik whether those physicians had a financial connection to the company.

A federal investigation is examining Biotronik’s marketing and sales practices, according to a company e-mail. While a lawyer for Biotronik confirmed the inquiry, he declined to elaborate.

One of the losers in this case, besides patients, was Boston Scientific, which — according to the story — supplied the hospital with 87 percent of its heart devices in 2007, but only 2 percent in 2009.

 The story focuses on a “Biotronik distributor called Western Medical, a company that was founded in mid-2008 by Caesar Fonte, a former top sales official at Boston Scientific. In 2006, Boston Scientific entered the heart device business when it acquired the Guidant Corporation, the company where Mr. Fonte then worked. Several other Boston Scientific sales officials also left in 2008 to join him at Western Medical.

Once there, they sought to persuade doctors they knew from their days marketing Boston Scientific devices to switch to Biotronik. In the process, some doctors got Biotronik consulting deals.”

 Today’s NYTimes also includes a  story on young doctors who travel to the developing world to battle epidemics makes reference to a plan put forward by group of Boston docs.  

The story reports on ” the surging interest of young Americans in combating the deadly epidemics ravaging the world’s poorest countries, fueled in part by the billions of dollars that the American government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations have poured into international health”

It makes reference to a proposal put forward by doctors Vanessa Kerry,  Sara Auld of MGH and Paul Farmer of PIH to set up a International Service Corps for Health. From the NEJM:

At first glance, medicine may seem unrelated to foreign policy, but in reality it is an unappreciated partner of diplomacy. In many parts of the world, poverty, inequity based on ethnicity or sex, shoddy public infrastructure, and environmental degradation have resulted in poor health as well as political and social instability. Poor health, in turn, fuels social vulnerabilities and discord, as illness diminishes productivity and disrupts family and social structures. The United States, a major funder of global health initiatives, has an opportunity to change the way it helps to tackle these challenges by investing in local health systems, equitable economic growth, and sustainable development

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