Hippocrat and Midas walk into a clinic.
April 23, 2014 4:35 PM   Subscribe

UC OKs paying surgeon $10 million in whistleblower-retaliation case. 'The settlement ends a case brought by the ex-head of UCLA's orthopedic surgery department, who says the medical school allowed doctors to take industry payments that may have compromised patient care.' 'In 2012, the surgeon sued UCLA, the UC regents, fellow surgeons and senior university officials, alleging they failed to act on his complaints about widespread conflicts of interest and later retaliated against him for speaking up.'[SL LATimes, use privacy settings in browser]

'He also alleged that UCLA looked the other way because the university stood to benefit financially from the success of medical products or drugs developed by its doctors.
One of the orthopedic surgeons that Pedowitz complained about testified at trial about receiving $250,000 in consulting fees in 2008 from device maker Medtronic. In memos to university officials, Pedowitz raised concerns about the financial dealings of other doctors as well.'

'At trial, Pedowitz said he was deeply troubled by the large amount of money Shamie was paid. He testified that he was particularly concerned that Shamie was trying to enroll patients in a research study involving Medtronic at the time.
"I saw this as an obvious problem," Pedowitz testified.'

'"These are serious issues that patients should be worried about," Pedowitz said in an interview. "These problems exist in the broader medical system and they are not restricted to UCLA."

'Before UCLA, Pedowitz worked at UC San Diego and as chairman of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of South Florida.
Mark Quigley, an attorney representing Pedowitz, said the case could have been avoided if the UC system enforced the policies it already has in place.
"What good are all the policies if they protect the wrongdoers and fail to protect the actual whistleblower?" Quigley said. "The university wanted to cover it all up."'
posted by VikingSword (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Such betrayals of patient trust, both of the personal patient-doctor bond and of the implicit patient-institution bond, as bad as they are for the individual patients, also end up hurting everyone else via public health debacles like the anti-vaxxers.
UCLA denied Pedowitz's allegations, and officials said they found no wrongdoing by faculty and no evidence that patient care was jeopardized. But the UC system paid him anyway, saying it wanted to avoid the "substantial expense and inconvenience" of further litigation.
$10 million dollars of expense and inconvenience, rather than prove their innocence? Either they're straight out lying, or they're fiscally and morally incompetent. I can't believe their press person would have the gall to say something like that.

UC has some serious explaining to do.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:50 PM on April 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Totally agree Llama-Lime, I would assume that he simply wanted his own pay day, and UC simply wanted to keep things status quo and moving along. Simply the cost of doing business.

It's pretty sad that commercial R&D has been moved to the university level, and it's corrupting the values of these educators and these institutions.
posted by parallax7d at 5:35 PM on April 23, 2014

A hippocrat, I take it, is someone who wants to be ruled by horses.
posted by yoink at 6:19 PM on April 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't know how Americans can go to the doctor and not second-guess decisions all the damn time, given how much money is sloshing round the system. Are you being recommended for an MRI because the doctor gets kickbacks from the imaging clinic? Are you being prescribed Drug X because the pharma rep is so very charming? Is this procedure necessary, or is it just doing favours for a golfing partner? There are lots of nice little earners in American medicine, and lots of doctors who want to be as rich as their colleagues.

Disclosure's not enough: are people really meant to look at small print about financial relationships?

Marti Arvin, chief compliance officer [said] "In order to meet our mission, it is important we have both the brilliant minds we have at UCLA and collaboration with industry."

Oh, spare us that bullshit.
posted by holgate at 6:21 PM on April 23, 2014

UC has some serious explaining to do.

I really hope that you're not holding your breath.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:36 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Realistically, it's hard to get subspecialty physicians especially high-paid surgeons to spend their time helping you develop a product, which is often a product that is intended to benefit their patients, unless you pay them as if it's another six-figure full-time job.

There's certainly room for conflicts of interest when it comes to investing, and there are regulations like Stark's Law intended to prevent referral kickbacks and so forth. Certainly money corrupts everything to a large extent and it's interesting that they would settle for that much and say "but we did nothing wrong." It's a sticky wicket to be sure.
posted by aydeejones at 7:55 PM on April 23, 2014

And yes these products often end up being insanely expensive and that's a whole other problem on its own and orthopedics makes a good example case study when you see how much the same joint implant for example costs in the US vs. what the NHS pays.
posted by aydeejones at 7:56 PM on April 23, 2014

Wow, so the damage to this doctor's reputation is worth 10 million dollars? That seems a bit high. E.g., per US federal law, if you're put in prison for 20 years for a crime you didn't commit, you're entitled to, after what is surely a tortured and byzantine legal process to gain redress, 1 million dollars for that little inconvenience in your life.
posted by Flashman at 8:03 PM on April 23, 2014

Yeah but this is a doctor, not some poor person. (hamburgizab)
posted by benzenedream at 8:48 PM on April 23, 2014

I think that the only possible explanation is that UC is covering up something worse that would have come out at trial? And $10M was the point in negotiation that Pedowitz just couldn't hold out anymore? It's 10-20 years of salary, which would break many people, and he certainly would not have seen anything that large from a jury.

Anyway, I absolutely 100% believe that industry-academia collaborations are necessary in medicine in the US, and also that they can be conducted ethically, and to the benefit of patients and medicine in general. Federal funding alone is not enough to push through all necessary clinical trials, and there are plenty of commercial organizations that function ethically within these parameters. But there's something deeply wrong here.
posted by Llama-Lime at 9:05 PM on April 23, 2014

Whete does someone who is a surgeon and full-time faculty member even find enough time available to perform 250k in consulting work?
posted by demiurge at 9:19 PM on April 23, 2014

Gee, what a shock that the whistleblower was the one who got in trouble. I just cannot believe that happened. *cough*
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:19 PM on April 23, 2014

This was long a problem. My perception was that this was a kind of old school style of thinking where rock star performers were often able to parlay their success and exposure into personal financial gains, as long as UCLA was able to get their taste. This power also gave these rock stars a great amount of power to steer drugs and devices into acceptance that were financially connected to the ones doing the steering.

UCLA's medical system dominates a huge chunk of West L.A. and I'm sure would sicken many folks if the shenanigans ever got wide exposure. I don't know if the rot is endemic to the UC Regents or the UC system overall, but the little corner of medical academia I got to witness back in the 90s absolutely turned me off the UCLA system.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:40 AM on April 24, 2014

UC has some serious explaining to do.

Which will probably come in the form of a new PR campaign touting the wonders and virtues of the UCLA medical school.
posted by homunculus at 12:44 AM on April 24, 2014

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