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Docs Need to Blow the Whistle on Fraud

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, December 15, 2011

Without skipping a beat, a huge medical device manufacturer allegedly found an easy way to influence physicians to use that company's brand of defibrillators and pacemakers.

How? By giving doctors kickbacks, the Justice Department says.

In a settlement agreement reached this week, Medtronic Inc. of Fridley, MN, agreed to pay $23.5 million to resolve allegations that it used physician payments as kickbacks to "induce doctors" to implant the company's products.

Daniel R. Levinson, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted in a statement, "Patients trust that decisions to implant certain pacemakers or other medical devices are based on their own health interests and not influenced by kickbacks."

This kind of news can certainly erode patients' trust in doctors. And there's more.

The Justice Department's announcement about the Medtronic settlement was barely 24 hours old when, in a separate, unrelated case, several dozen federal and state investigators swooped into a radiology and diagnostic facility in Orange, NJ, arresting 13 doctors and a nurse practitioner in a cash-for-tests referral scheme.

"When physicians take kickbacks that influence how they practice medicine, it has the potential to taint the medical advice and care that is provided to their patients," Office of Inspector General Special Agent Tom O'Donnell said in an official statement.

Bribes and kickbacks are only part of the problem in healthcare fraud, which includes identity theft, illegal prescription drug sales, and countless other areas of wrongdoing. These transgressions do occasionally involve doctors.
The wrongdoing at Medtronic unraveled after two whistleblowers sued the company and alerted authorities to the problem, according to the Justice Department.

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