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Doctors Using Own Surgical Hardware: A Dangerous Conflict of Interest

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These days, a good number of doctors have interests in medical technologies: many take part in researching and testing new supplies, machinery, and hardware, lending their expertise to examine practicality and usability.

On some occasions, surgeons may be placing themselves in conflicts of interest: using medical products on their patients that they have either developed, tested, or endorsed themselves— and from which they stand to profit monetarily. Dr. Adam Lewis, a spinal surgeon recently cited in a Wall Street Journal article (October 8, 2011, John Carreyrou and Tom McGinty) for allegedly causing the wrongful death of a patient, used spinal hardware from a company in which he had a vested financial interest. His use of a product he personally developed and endorsed is argued to have lead to his patient’s death from surgical complications.

The Association for Medical Ethics (AME) has addressed the dangers and inherent conflicts of interest involved in using hardware that bears extra monetary profit for doctors. There is an extra incentive for doctors to use these products, either through royalties gained from the manufacturers, or direct profit from partial ownership of the manufacturing company itself. The concern of the AME, as outline in the Wall Street Journal article, is that some doctors, spurred by the promise of more money, will perform surgeries that are not necessarily vital to the care of their patients.

Instances such as Dr. Lewis’ and several other doctors only serve to show the importance of knowing as much about your treatment as possible. Making sure that your medical history is complete and acknowledged, that the best and least harmful treatments have already been attempted and have not sufficed, and that your doctor has your health first in mind, is more important than ever in a world where industry and medicine are growing closely together.

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