… in the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the most charitable description of what’s been going on at the clubby University of Minnesota medical school would be “bizarre.”
Sunday, August 2, 2009
All in a $4,000 day's work
From the Star-Tribune:
By JANET MOORE, Star Tribune
Records in a congressional inquiry give insight into Dr. David Polly's billing records as consultant for Medtronic.
Dinners. Travel to foreign locales -- and not-so-foreign locales. Meetings with executives and occasionally members of Congress. Lots and lots of e-mails and phone calls. Grand total: more than $1 million.
Billing records released last week in a congressional investigation involving Fridley-based Medtronic Inc. provide a telling peek at the often-controversial relationships between medical device companies and physicians.
Companies argue that doctor input is crucial to make medical devices safer and better. Critics say that it constitutes a conflict of interest -- that consulting money may skew the brand of device used or the manner in which patients are treated.
The documents reveal that the doctors can be paid for activities that seem to have little to do with surgery or medical practice.
Grassley's July 24 letter, sent to U of M President Robert Bruininks, documents hundreds of charges incurred by Polly from 2003 through 2007. In that five-year period, Polly received $1.2 million from Medtronic for consulting, expenses and honoraria.
By 2007, Polly was paid $4,750 a day, or $594 an hour. The pact has a cap of $400,000 a year, which Polly has not exceeded, and an exclusivity clause that prevents him from engaging in product development for other companies.
But in the wake of the controversy, Medtronic said last week that it is taking a "hard look" at its practices for managing consulting relationships.
"We are investigating specific charges for which Dr. Polly billed us, and determining whether or not they fit our standards and policies, and if newly enhanced standards are required," Medtronic spokesman Steve Cragle said in a statement.
He declined to comment about Polly's line-by-line billing "at this time."
Records indicate that Polly contacted Medtronic officials frequently. In 2006, for example, the year that Polly received his most compensation, $358,588, he billed Medtronic on 233 days -- sometimes multiple times in one day.
He billed to check e-mail, sometimes in 5-minute increments. He also billed to make phone calls; in 2006, there were roughly 125 calls.
On April 30, 2005, he charged the company $750 for 90 minutes of "summarizing thoughts and opportunities" after a medical meeting. And on Feb. 12, 2004, he charged the company $350 to update his consulting log.
Even William Hawkins, now the company's chairman and chief executive, shows up in the records on at least three occasions. On July 21, 2006, Hawkins (then chief operating officer) visited the operating room at Fairview-Riverside Medical Center. For that, Polly billed Medtronic $2,000.
In a statement last week, Cragle said that Hawkins frequently makes trips to view surgical procedures involving the company's products. "In this case, [he] was unaware that Medtronic would be billed," Cragle said.
Polly appears to have traveled worldwide to attend medical meetings on the company's dime. In 2006, for example, he took 14 trips to meetings in places such as Japan, Paris and Phoenix, billing $187,313 for travel and preparation.
Several entries indicate that Polly was discussing topics such as the cost-effectiveness of medical devices and "lobbying" members of Congress for better care for the nation's veterans.
On April 15, 2005, he charged $1,000 (a sum later reduced to $500) to meet with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., on new technologies to treat veterans injured in the Iraq war.
In September 2005, he participated with the company's public relations team to craft a "media blitz" before a meeting of the North American Spine Society, a premier event in the spine field. The entry states that Polly called patients on Medtronic's behalf and then charged the company $375.