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Why Floridians should be concerned about doctor-owned businesses

It's been almost a year since we first discussed a wrongful death lawsuit against a spine surgeon. That case, as we noted, exposed a potentially-deadly phenomenon known as physician-owned distributorships. Because of their financial involvement in the companies that sell medical devices like the spinal implants in this case, critics of PODs argue that some doctors perform unnecessary and risky operations to boost sales of their products.

Now the federal government is taking action. A recent report on "CBS This Morning" discussed the Department of Justice's suit against the network of physician-owned companies to which the doctor involved in the wrongful death case belonged. Prosecutors say that some 35 doctors in these companies have performed unnecessary and dangerous operations.

The two men who own the network were reportedly recorded recruiting a surgeon by telling him that doctors could make enough money in the first two months to "put their kids through college." They allegedly cautioned the surgeon that he was not to let patients know of his involvement with the company.

Physician-owned companies reportedly provide one-sixth of the spinal implants used throughout the country. The screws implanted in the woman who died sell for about 10 times their cost. Although her surgeon has lost his license in California, he still practices in Michigan.

The current Department of Justice suit is not the first time these companies have come to the attention of those in the federal government. Sen. Orrin Hatch says he has been concerned about them for years and thinks the DOJ case may be a turning point.

No physician should make a medical decision based on anything but the best interests of a patient. To perform surgery to increase the sales of a company in which doctors have ownership may be grounds for a medical malpractice action.

It is always advisable to get a second opinion if possible when surgery is recommended. Nonetheless, in the end, Florida patients and their families have to place some level of faith in physicians. When those physicians abuse that faith, they can and should be held accountable -- not only to give victims the financial compensation they deserve but to help prevent them from harming others.

Source: CBS News, "Feds target physician-owned companies for unnecessary surgeries" Sep. 24, 2014

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