Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Artificial Hips Snapped in Half
More than 750 Profemur artificial hips — once considered a major innovation in hip replacement — have failed in the last 2 decades, leading to difficult and expensive surgeries for patients, according to an investigation by CBS News and KFF Health News.
Its failure centered around a “dual modular neck” that supposedly allowed for better customization of the device. However, those necks were prone to fracturing, leaving patients stranded with sudden, severe loss of function, the investigation found. The news outlets reviewed adverse event reports that were submitted to the FDA.
Despite the malfunction, the devices remained on the market for years. Analysis of FDA data show reports of the modular necks breaking as early as 2005 — but the corresponding parts weren’t recalled until 15 years later, according to the investigation.
In total, at least 28 different sizes of the Profemur artificial hip have reportedly fractured or corroded, but only 11 of those sizes have been permanently recalled, the outlets reported.
As lawsuits piled up and patients shared their stories, the current manufacturer of the Profemur artificial hip issued a sweeping recall of all products, according to the article. However, those recalls will be temporary and just long enough for the company to update product packaging before being re-released to the market.
Docs Get Millions to Push Weight-Loss Drugs
Novo Nordisk paid U.S. clinicians at least $25.8 million over the past decade to promote its obesity drugs, a Reuters investigation found.
One physician in particular — Lee Kaplan, MD, PhD, chief of obesity medicine at Dartmouth College’s medical school in New Hampshire — received $1.4 million from Novo Nordisk from 2013 to 2022 for consulting work and travel related to liraglutide (Saxenda) and semaglutide (Wegovy), the investigation found.
At least 57 U.S. physicians each accepted at least $100,000 from the company for consulting, speaker fees, or food and travel related to the weight-loss drugs (Reuters didn’t count payments for research, or payments for Ozempic, which is the brand name of semaglutide for treating type 2 diabetes). Many of these doctors are highly influential: 41 were obesity specialists who run weight-management clinics, work in academia, write obesity treatment guidelines, or hold top spots at medical societies.
For his part, Kaplan said he does not “kowtow to the companies” and “if I can’t defend what I’m doing as being both appropriate and ethical, then I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Novo Nordisk told Reuters that it works with medical professionals to support more than drug marketing. “[W]e need to do more than supply the right medicine,” the company said in a statement. “This is why we work with medical professionals, institutions, and other experts to conduct research and educate and raise awareness about obesity, a condition that has long been underrecognized and misunderstood.”
Doctors, Pharmacists Increasingly Organizing
More healthcare professionals are pushing back on big business like never before, with physicians and pharmacists increasingly joining the fight against corporate interests, according to the New York Times.
The article describes recent efforts by doctors and pharmacists to organize, including 100 physicians at an Allina Health hospital in Minneapolis who voted to unionize in March. They were followed by a group of about 400 primary care doctors working for Allina clinics who voted to unionize in October. The latter group is now the largest private-sector group of doctors in the U.S. to organize.
The Doctors Council of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the Allina doctors, said physicians from “dozens of facilities around the country have inquired about organizing over the past few years,” according to the Times.
Driving the trend is clinicians’ feeling that they’re being asked to do more with less, leading to burnout and concerns about putting patients at risk. It’s ultimately explained by a long-term trend in healthcare consolidation that makes workers feel powerless against big bureaucracies, according to the Times.
“I realized at end of the day that all of us are workers, no matter how elite we’re perceived to be,” said Alia Sharif, MBBS, a hospitalist at Allina Health in Minneapolis, who was involved in the union campaign. “We’re seen as cogs in the wheel. You can be a physician or a factory worker, and you’re treated exactly the same way by these large corporations.”