Documents that have surfaced about Medtronic’s marketing strategies down under shed more light on the Fridley, Minn.–based medical device company’s marketing operation in Australia and the lengths it has gone to get its product in the operating room.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a Medtronic marketing presentation explicitly describes the purpose of the company’s Global Fellowship Program as securing “new business revenue streams” and to “nurture and support potential customers.” And by customers, they mean doctors.
That’s not all: the documents even goes so far as to predict a return on investment. According to the Herald, “The documents state that if the company spends $1.5 million on fellowship grants, it can expect a ‘potential 200 per cent return on investment'” and “a graph compares the expense of putting 18 doctors through the program with the potential revenue the doctors will return to the company.”
And in a letter obtained by the Herald, a doctor who received a Medtronic educational grant indicates he plans on using the company’s devices because the company awarded him a scholarship.
We’ve been here before with Medtronic. Most recently, the company has been under scrutiny for its payments to University of Minnesota spine surgeon David Polly, who is being investigated for leading three research studies of Medtronic products while being retained by the device maker as a consultant, for which he received $1.2 million between 2003-2007. Earlier this year, the company announced it would begin to disclose consulting, travel and honorari payments over $5000 to physicians beginning in March 2011.
While Medtronic is hardly the only company to have steered scholarship funds toward doctors and trainees (the practice is so common that many academic medical centers have policies and firewalls to separate the companies from the fund recipients) – measured in headlines, the company’s physician marketing antics have tended to be a little more egregious than the field.
Last year, for instance, a Wall Street Journal report on searing allegations in a 2002 whistleblower suit around Medtronic inducements to physicians featured a surgeon that counted his surgeries toward billable consulting hours, and a Medtronic-hosted “think tank” convened on an Alaskan fishing vessel.
And indeed, this story has its own colorful moments. A Medtronic spokesperson, defending why the company flew a consulting surgeon from the hospital to the airport to avoid rush hour, told the Herald this:
“This [the helicopter flight] was the only viable option to ensure timely attendance at an international conference without compromising patient safety.”