Business Ethos Blog

A New Type of Medical Malpractice? – Dr. David Mielke, Dean of the EMU College of Business

 Abbott Laboratories a medical device manufacturer hired a cardiologist as a sales consultant after he was barred from practice at a Baltimore area hospital.  Abbott has since terminated the arrangement.  The doctor was barred from practice after an investigation that alleges that he put heart stents in hundreds of patients that didn’t need them.  Abbott Labs was the manufacturer of those stents.  The doctor may have set a record for implanting 30 stents in one day.

Senate investigators are looking into the medical device industry as a whole because in the six years through 2009, Medicare paid $25.7 billion for stent surgery alone.  Stent surgery is one of the most lucrative procedures for hospitals.  In 2009 after the investigation was launched, the hospital barred the doctor from practice.  The state followed earlier this year by charging the doctor with unprofessional conduct and barring him from practice.  As a result of the investigation, the hospital sent letters to 585 patients starting in late 2009 stating that they may have been given coronary stents they didn’t need.  The hospital has paid a $22 million fine late in 2010 to end a federal investigation over its stent charges to Medicare.  The doctor’s banishment in 2009 was a blow to the hospital’s cardiovascular revenue.  The number of stent surgeries fell from 350 to 116.

There are some obvious issues to consider:

1. Using his professional judgment, did the doctor do the right thing by performing so many stent surgeries?  The doctor did not receive any extra pay from the hospital or any out of the ordinary support from Abbott labs.  Without a motive for personal gain, did he just use poor judgment?

2. Did the hospital do the right thing notifying patients that they may not have needed stent surgery?  Did the hospital do the right thing in initially hiring the doctor to build their cardiovascular specialty?  Did they do the right thing to bar him from practice?

3.  Did Abbott Labs do the right thing to hire him as a consultant—albeit for a relatively short period of time with payments of only $33,623 for his services?

4.  The larger issue is the Medicare system itself.  If this is just one issue of Medicare abuse, how much more abuse is occurring in the system?  Given Medicare is only a fraction of the new government mandated health care system, how can we expect to monitor  something bigger that we don’t seem able to monitor now?  “What is the Right Thing to do?”  I suggest that Congress launch a major review of the Medicare system to determine what needs to be done to eliminate waste and inefficiencies.  In the past month there have been members of the House that have suggested that this is a priority.  I suggest that they follow-through.