Should surgeons own medical device companies and then use those devices during surgery? Some do.

June 14, 2022

It’s a business model facing scrutiny: physicians owning a stake in medical device companies, like one that makes parts used in spinal fusions, and influencing the hospitals where they work to buy and implant that hardware in their own patients.

They’re called “physician-owned distributorships,” or PODs. According to InvestigateTV, doctors who own medical distributorships are more likely to perform operations, and the government has even warned about these set-ups. 

Dr. Scott Lederhaus is a California neurosurgeon who has spoken out against PODs for years. “You have these egregious doctors that were throwing in hardware just for the sake of making money,” he told InvestigateTV.

Many patients don’t know their doctors own a stake in the tools and pieces used in surgery. Even some hospitals that buy equipment from PODs don’t know about the surgeons’ financial interests.

Paul Shinn was a rock ’n’ roll musician and college instructor, but now he’s in constant pain. Ten years ago, he tore his meniscus and ended up overcompensating and hurting his back. He was referred to different doctors and ultimately had surgery that involved a clamp-and-fusion material inserted into his spine.

“The second I woke up from surgery, I think the first words out of my mouth were, ‘What happened? What happened to me?’” he told InvestigateTV.

Shinn says the fusion hardware detached and other pieces came loose. He eventually had much of the hardware removed, but some is lodged in his spinal cord.

Shinn’s doctor performed more than 375 surgeries in just 19 months, according to InvestigateTV.

In many of those surgeries, he used hardware from a company called Apex, whose hardware he started using only after he invested in the company

As for laws that could prevent this from happening to others, it’s a gray area. Some PODs go to court because the government accuses them of illegally profiting off the model, or they illegally profited from patients using government health insurance. But the litigation for these cases can be costly, so legal experts say a settlement is relatively common.

What can you do? If you’re scheduled for surgery, ask about the hardware your surgeon is planning to use and where it comes from. And share your experience with Voices for Affordable Health