Medical device sales representatives may be getting too close to the physicians they sell to and taking on extra roles in the operating room, according to a new study sponsored by Georgetown University.
The study was published early this month in the journal Plos One.
Researchers in the study aimed to explore the relationships between surgeons and medical device representatives through group and individual open-ended interviews with 3 former or current medical device representatives and 19 surgeons.
In the operating room, surgeons reported not being able to operate complex devices with out the help of sales technicians, and many technicians also made ready surgical trays and tools for operating surgeons, according to study authors.
“This is one of the reasons why, currently, you need a rep in the operating room,” a medical device rep surveyed in the study said. “Who’s to say who else will know when we get to surgery in the morning whether you’re opening the right implants, or whether you’re opening the right trays?…[I]t’s useful to have somebody else in the room whose specific job is to have that information on hand always.”
While the relationships were cultivated to make the physicians invaluable to the staff, the personal relationships they developed could turn out to be problematic when it came time to pitch new products, according to the study.
“I often felt like I’m driving up the costs of the health care system,” a surveyed medical device rep said. “We used to sell an implant that has 99% survivorship at 15 years, which is great, right? We were told to not ever market it to anybody. If a doctor asked for it by name, we would give it to him. We want to market the newer, the better technology. I’m not certain I ever thought the newer technology was better. There certainly wasn’t data on it. I was uncomfortable with those sorts of things.”
Study authors said that the “issues and potential pitfalls of excessive industry influence in medical care and physicians’ treatment decision making are at least as urgent for implantable medical devices as they are for pharmaceuticals,” but said that the issues are less studied than their pharmaceutical counterparts.
“We call upon professional societies, hospital systems, individual hospitals, collaborative private practices, and regulatory bodies to develop real-time, workable methods to systematically collect, analyze, and disseminate data on implant surgeries and their short- and long-term outcomes to the professions and the public,” study authors concluded.