Medtronic CEO defends relationships with physicians

Medtronic CEO Bill Hawkins defended the company’s practice of hiring physicians as consultants this morning at the company’s annual meeting, the Star Tribune reports.

The U of M this week responded to an inquiry by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa about payments made by Medtronic to Dr. David Polly, a university spine surgeon. Polly was paid $1.14 million by Medtronic between 2004 and 2007, and the senator and others have raised questions about whether he properly reported those ties.

Hawkins acknowledged the potential for conflicts of interest, but said device companies depend on doctors’ input for improving devices and training other doctors. I accept and understand that input and feedback from doctors is critical to device makers, and that physicians deserve fair compensation for their expertise. But here’s a question that’s been troubling me as this story unfolds:

Why should the University allow its doctors to perform other tasks, such as lobbying, that appear well outside the definition of what Hawkins is defending? The Wall Street Journal has reported Polly received more than $50,000 from Medtronic for lobbying-related costs.

I can see why Medtronic would want a respected surgeon to carry its message in Washington, but it seems to really muck up the question where Dr. Polly’s loyalties reside. Does he represent the interest of a publicly funded institution, or a for-profit enterprise?

Discuss?

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