In prior blog posts, we’ve addressed the roles that hip implant manufacturers and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration have played in subjecting thousands of patients to painful, chronic, and unnecessary injuries from certain defective devices. A recent New York Times article offers a glimpse into doctors’ perspectives.

The article references one physician who sent a note sent to Johnson & Johnson executives about the poor design of one of the company’s DePuy A.S.R. artificial hip devices and recommending that sales and marketing of the product be curtailed to avoid injury to patients. The doctor was a paid consultant to Johnson & Johnson, and wrote his letter two years before the company ultimately recalled the device in the face of hundreds of lawsuits.

As courageous as this one physician was, the broader question remains – in light of their ethical obligation to do no harm, why won’t doctors speak out about products they suspect or know to be defective?

The article cites Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale School of Medicine professor, who suggests the reasons for doctors’ silence are many:

  • Speaking out may get the doctor sued
  • The doctor may feel the perceived problem is unique
  • The doctor may believe that he or she caused the problem
  • The process of reporting an issue is too cumbersome and requires too much paperwork
  • There may be a risk of criticism or ostracism from peers in the medical community
  • And perhaps the biggest reason of all… the doctor may receive consulting payments or have some kind of financial connection to the manufacturer

None of these come as a surprise, of course, but neither should they be seen as valid excuses for knowingly allowing a patient to suffer needlessly.

We thank reporter Barry Meier of the New York Times for shedding light on this topic, and encourage you to read the full article here.