Medtronic Paid Surgeon While He Was in the Army
June 13, 2009
By BARRY MEIER
Medtronic has acknowledged that it paid a former Army surgeon, who is now accused of falsifying research about one of its products, to give speeches and train other doctors on the company's behalf while he was in the military.
The disclosure, made this week as Medtronic sought to clarify comments by its chief executive, shows that the financial entanglements between Medtronic and the surgeon, Dr. Timothy R. Kuklo, were more extensive than previously acknowledged.
Army officials have accused Dr. Kuklo of falsifying research about the benefits of a Medtronic bone-growth product called Infuse in treating American soldiers who suffered severe leg injuries in Iraq. Until mid-2006, Dr. Kuklo, an orthopedic surgeon, worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Dr. Kuklo, now an associate professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, has declined requests to speak about the incident, which has drawn increasing attention over the last month. Medtronic, which says it was not involved in the discredited research study, has only gradually disclosed the extent of its financial ties to Dr. Kuklo.
Initially, for example, Medtronic officials said that the company had supported some of Dr. Kuklo's research through grants to a foundation but refused to say when the company had hired him as a consultant. That drew the attention of Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who had already been investigating Medtronic in connection with its marketing of Infuse.
About two weeks ago, in responses to Senator Grassley's demands for information, Medtronic disclosed that it had hired Dr. Kuklo as a consultant in August 2006, the month when he left Walter Reed to take his current teaching post.
The company had also previously acknowledged that before mid-2006, it had paid Dr. Kuklo's travel expenses to attend medical conferences while he was in the military. But it did not disclose then what it now acknowledges - that Medtronic also paid him during that same period to speak on the company's behalf at such meetings and to train other doctors.
That latest wrinkle came to light this week after Medtronic's chief executive, William A. Hawkins III, responded to a question from a reporter from the cable news stations CNBC about the company's relationship with Dr. Kuklo. In his response, Mr. Hawkins said those ties had started in August 2006 when Dr. Kuklo left Walter Reed.
On Wednesday, Medtronic issued a public clarification about Mr. Hawkins's comments. "Dr. Kuklo," the statement said, "did perform a number of reimbursable functions, including training and education, for the company while he was a practicing physician at Walter Reed prior to that time."
In response to a reporter's question, a Medtronic spokeswoman, Marybeth Thorsgaard, acknowledged Thursday that the company had directly paid Dr. Kuklo before August 2006 to give speeches and train other doctors on the company's behalf.
Ms. Thorsgaard, in a written statement, said that Medtronic's relationship with Dr. Kuklo was not unusual. "Medtronic has worked with military physicians to support their efforts to participate in events at which they may enhance their own expertise or share their accomplishments and knowledge with others," the statement said.
Ms. Thorsgaard declined to say how frequently Dr. Kuklo had performed such services for the company while he was in the military or how much he had been paid to do so. She said Medtronic would provide that data to Senator Grassley next week.
Military physicians are permitted to receive money for outside duties like speaking on a medical product company's behalf or consulting with one. But they are supposed to clear such arrangements with military officials.
Army officials said they had not found any records, despite a search, to indicate that Dr. Kuklo ever sought or received such permission.