The Wall Street Journal ran a great article on December 20 titled, “Top Spine Surgeons Reap Royalities, Medicare Bounty.” The article is written by one of the WSJ’s top journalist covering health care issues, John Carreyrou.
The article starts off telling us about Norton Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. What could be of much interest at this little hospital in a mid-sized American city? The answer is ” a lot” or more precisely, “a lot of money.”
You see, this hospital has five spine surgeons with staff privileges. These 5 surgeons, between 2004 and 2008, performed the third highest number of spine surgeries on Medicare patients in the entire United States. Of additional interest is the fact these 5 surgeons received more than $7 million during the first 9 months of 2010 from the manufacturer (Medtronic) of the hardware used during these procedures.
Why did Medtronic pay 5 doctors over $7 million during the first 9 months of 2010? Damn good question and here is my answer: Medtronic paid these doctors obscene amounts of money so they would continue to perform spine fusion surgeries at an alarmingly high rate and use it’s medical hardware for each of those surgeries.
How can this be good medicine?