File this story under, “How can you help but turn cynical when…” To complete the sentence: “…when even the very people charged with protecting patient safety appear to succumb to the corrupting effects of big money?”
Here’s an example of a recent headline, from Reuters: Carefusion to Pay $40 Million In U.S. Kickbacks Lawsuit. And on MassDevice.com: Influential Patient Safety Board Cut Ties With Doc Before Carefusion Kickbacks Case.
What’s the story? And is it, as it seems, an extraordinarily outrageous case of financial conflict of interest at the highest levels of medicine? I asked Brian Johnson, publisher of Massdevice.com, who wrote the safety board story above. Our conversation, edited.
So, Brian, just how outrageous is this case?
Large legal settlements involving kickback payments to doctors tend to happen quite frequently. The Department of Justice is very aggressive in prosecuting companies for kickbacks, off-label promotions, these types of alleged wrongdoings. This case is unique because in essence, it appears to be an attempt to influence an entire health care system by paying a key member of a very influential patient safety organization.
So there’s particular irony in the fact that it’s an organization whose existence is aimed at protecting patients, and yet a member of it allegedly put finances before safety?
Allegedly. In the settlement, CareFusion does not admit any wrongdoing. Here are the outlines of the story: On Jan. 9, the Department of Justice released a statement saying that it had settled a longstanding investigation into the sales and marketing practices of an antiseptic skin wipe made by CareFusion, called ChloraPrep. The company ended up paying out just under $41 million to settle accusations of off-label promotion and kickbacks. The statement says in part:
“The settlement resolves allegations that, under agreements entered into in 2008 by CareFusion’s predecessor, CareFusion paid $11.6 million in kickbacks to Dr. Charles Denham while Denham served as the co-chair of the Safe Practices Committee at the National Quality Forum, a non-profit organization that reviews, endorses and recommends standardized health care performance measures and practices. The government contends that the purpose of those payments was to induce Denham to recommend, promote and arrange for the purchase of ChloraPrep by health care providers.”
What sets this story apart from the usual kickback settlement?
A few things. First, the Department of Justice went out of their way to specifically name a single prominent doctor, Dr. Charles Denham, for having received 11.6 million dollars from the company.
Ullp. That’s a lot of money.
At the time that he received the payments, Denham was co-chair of the Safe Practices Committee of the National Quality Forum. The NQF is one of the most important patient safety organizations in the country. Continue reading