Bribed by Medical Firm, VA Doctors ‘Mutilated’ Veterans and Violated Procedure, Whistleblowers Say
A medical device firm bribed doctors at the Veterans Affairs medical facility in Wichita, Kansas, to overuse its products and is correlated with increased instances of amputation, according to whistleblower documents and an internal investigation.
Internal investigators at the Robert J. Dole VA facility in Wichita found that physicians treating peripheral artery disease, a condition characterized by fatty plaque buildup obstructing blood flow in the legs, used devices excessively on several occasions, according to ProPublica. A separate whistleblower lawsuit alleged multiple VA workers received unethical gifts — steakhouse dinners, Apple electronics and NASCAR tickets — in exchange for a contract involving excessive purchase and use of Medtronics devices between 2011 and 2018.
“It is unconscionable — there can be no valid medically acceptable basis to cram so many devices into a human being,” attorneys in the whistleblower filings from January 2023 wrote. “This is not medical treatment. This is abuse.”
Medical research and Medtronic’s own ethics guidelines instruct physicians to implant as few foreign devices in patients as possible, as each one carries with it an increased risk of infection, blood clots or other complications.
Kari Kirk, a representative for Medtronic, looked on at one procedure and texted observations to colleagues, documents show.
“Fixing both legs from the ankles,” she said. “Just used 12 [drug-coated balloons]!!”
“Does that mean I owe u $$,” a colleague responded.
“Thats what I’m thinking!!! 🤣,” Kirk said, according to the documents. “And now 14 balloons!😳”
“U are going to want to start going to the VA all the time,” the colleague said later in the conversation.
One VA doctor used 33 devices in a single procedure, a medical expert on the investigation team found, according to ProPublica.
Internal emails show that amputations at the hospital increased six-fold during the time period of the kickback scheme but do not indicate any causal connections, ProPublica reported.
These were devices used to treat a common medical condition: clogged leg vessels (also known as peripheral artery disease), which impacts more than 6 million Americans over the age of 40. pic.twitter.com/aTOyLoMPK4
— Annie Waldman (@AnnieWaldman) February 16, 2023
A spokesperson for Medtronic denied the whistleblower allegations to ProPublica.
VA leaders in the Wichita region reached out to the VA Office of the Inspector General in 2018 after identifying a suspicious increase in costs on medical procedures and suspended related procedures, VA spokesperson Terrence Hayes confirmed to ProPublica in a statement.
The Dole VA facility boasted some of the most costly cardiac procedures in the country, according to ProPublica.
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“It just did not make sense that the acuity level of our patients would generate such extreme cost variances from the norm,” Dole facility lead Rick Ament testified in December deposition, according to ProPublica. “It was so significant, we needed to get to the bottom of it.”
“VA is conducting an extensive review of patient care …. including the number of devices used on patients — to make sure that Veterans were not harmed by any procedures,” Hayes said. “To date, VA has found no quality of care issues,” he added, noting that the investigation would proceed until it had reviewed every veteran’s individual case.
However, no formal action has been taken to prosecute medical providers, he added.
Medtronic did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment. The VA OIG declined to comment.
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