The growing patient injury lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) subsidiary Ethicon’s pelvic mesh products have raised some new questions about the relationships between industry and healthcare providers.
J&J has maintained that its relationship with the medical community is appropriate and within legal bounds, but a new report by the Wall Street Journal suggests that there may be subtle influences that slip through the cracks of legal conduct.
Dr. Vincent Lucente reportedly received about $800,000 over a period of 10 years as as consultant for J&J, during which time he made efforts to influence language used in medical trade publications.
Emails made public during legal discovery include an exchange between Lucente and J&J executives about concerns that the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists referred to transvaginal mesh as an "experimental" procedure.
"Given the limited data and frequent changes in the marketed products…the procedures should be considered experimental and patients should consent to surgery with that understanding," according to the ACOG’s original memo.
J&J reached out to Lucente for advice, worried that the word "experimental" would scare away patients and perhaps even threaten reimbursement from insurance companies. The offending word was later removed, a change that Lucente boasted about in subsequent correspondence, the Journal reported.
"Note, no further use of the word experimental!" Lucente wrote. "Well, this is one I’m taking credit for. I led the charge on this and never thought we would get a complete replacement of the earlier bulletin."
Bulletin writers balked at the change, saying that challenges to the language were "disingenuous at best."
"Most of the clinicians who objected to the use of the word ‘experimental’ understood only too well exactly what meaning was intended," original bulletin co-author Dr. Anne Weber wrote in a letter to the editor of the International Urogynecology Journal. "Such clinicians were concerned that insurance companies would not cover procedures labeled experimental."
Physician-industry relationships have been getting extra attention lately as conflicts of interest scandals have arisen at influential medical groups.
Earlier this month National Quality Forum president & CEO Dr. Christine Cassel voluntarily resigned her seat on the boards of a couple of high-profile industry groups amid concerns about potential conflicts of interest among the Forum’s leaders. Cassel has been under fire since former NQF member Dr. Charles Denham was named in an alleged kickbacks scheme involving CareFusion (NYSE:CFN). The U.S. Justice Dept. claimed in a Jan. 9 press release that CareFusion paid $11.6 million to induce Denham to "recommend, promote and arrange for the purchase" of its ChloraPrep wipes to healthcare providers while Denham was co-chairman of the Safe Practices Committee at NQF.