DePuy paid doctors millions to promote its defective hip implants

About 30 patients of New Haven, Connecticut, orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Irving received a phone call notifying them that the artificial hip they received had been recalled by the manufacturer and that they may need a second surgery to replace the part. What patients didn’t know is that the manufacturer of the faulty hip replacement parts, DePuy Orthopedics, had paid Dr. Irving more than $80,000 in consultant’s payments since 2009. According to an investigation by C-HIT, DePuy paid more than $80.8 million to some 200 doctors across the country since 2009 to promote their hip replacement parts.

In August, DePuy recalled two parts used in its hip replacement system because the parts were showing a higher than expected rate of failure. They were either coming loose from the bone in which they were attached, fracturing the bones where they were attached, or dislocating all together. There were also some cases where the metal parts of the implant rubbed against each other causing flakes of metal to leach into the bloodstream, a painful condition known as metallosis. An estimated 93,000 patients are affected by the recall.

DePuy was one of four major medical device companies that in 2007 were investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for paying kickbacks to doctors for using their products. The charges were dropped last year after the companies were fined and agreed to only pay physicians for legitimate consulting services.

In light of the recall, C-HIT raises the question whether the recent DePuy payment disclosures compromise the relationships between patients and their doctors. While the issue is up for debate, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has adopted a new conflict of interest disclosure system in response to the increasing public and governmental scrutiny of the relationships between orthopaedic surgeons and industry.