Consumer Watchdog Calls on Governor and Attorney General to Investigate Potential Conflicts of Interest at Public University Hospitals to Ensure Doctors’ Personal Financial Ties Don’t Interfere With Patient Safety

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SANTA MONICA, CA – After UCLA settled a whistleblower case for $10 million in which accusations of conflicts of interest between doctors and the medical device industry were ignored, Californians deserve an independent investigation to ensure that patients are not harmed when UC financial interests conflict with transparency in patient care, wrote patient safety advocates in a letter yesterday.

Jamie Court and Michael Kapp, both with Consumer Watchdog, called on Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris to create an independent investigation to determine:

(1)    If the taxpayers were bilked because UC hospitals lost funding that was destined to them, but instead payouts from medical companies was diverted to doctors personal accounts;
(2)    Whether it is appropriate for a public institution to ever take private funds and conduct research based upon financial gain, or if the practice should be prohibited;
(3)    When patients should be told that a doctor or the hospital receives funding from a device or drug manufacturer; and
(4)    Whether oversight of UC financial relationships with drug and medical device manufacturers should be taken out of the hands of hospital administrators and given to an independent monitor with no financial interest.

In the letter, Court and Kapp cited the recent case out of UCLA Medical Hospital in which Dr. Robert Pedowitz, the former chair of the UCLA orthopedics department, had sued UCLA after he was retaliated against after reporting widespread financial conflicts of interest that may have compromised patient care.

To date, UCLA has made no changes in response to Dr. Pedowitz’s reports, and continues to contend that there were no problems with the university’s policies or oversight of financial relationships between physicians, the hospital and outside medical device and drug manufacturers.

Court and Kapp wrote that the financial links between hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical and medical device companies were greatly disturbing, and provided improper incentives to compromise patient care:

“Dr. Pedowitz alleged that his fellow doctors had deep financial ties to medical-device makers while using – and testing – their products on patients. He argued that UCLA ignored these potential conflicts because the school stood to benefit financially from the commercialization of products and/or drugs developed by its own doctors. After airing his complaints, Dr. Pedowitz was demoted.

“In one case, a spine surgeon failed to report nearly $460,000 in payments from the device manufacturer Medtronic, while at the same time testing the use of the company’s products in patients. At least five patients have since sued that physician and other UCLA physicians, alleging failed surgeries and horrific injuries because unapproved or contraindicated Medtronic biologics and devices were used without informing the patients. In each case the physician had taken payments from Medtronic, also without the patient’s knowledge.”

Court and Kapp noted that current conflict of interest policies for California’s public university hospitals were inadequate or unenforced:

“Patients in UC hospitals deserve the most reliable surgical devices and medication – and they shouldn’t be treated as subjects in expensive experiments that make money for public facilities while the costs fall on patients and the taxpayer.

“California’s public university hospitals are allowed to set their own conflict of interest policies. For instance, UCSF, which has the strongest transparency requirements in the UC system, prohibits faculty members conducting research on behalf of a company from having a personal financial relationship with that company. Other institutions within the UC system, including UCLA, have policies that are far less protective. Shouldn’t all public university hospitals have the same protections against conflicts of interest? The findings of your investigation can help determine this.”

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Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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