Nevada officials look into Biotronik payments to docs

Officials in Nevada are trying to determine if a German heart device company inappropriately paid doctors to use its products. The move comes after a piece appearing Sunday in the New York Times highlighted the payments.

In his original piece, Barry Meier points out that Biotronik, which is relatively unknown, "has cornered the market on pacemakers and defibrillators at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada." Last year, 250 of the 263 patients--or 95 percent--who had a heart device implanted at the hospital center got one made by the company. And, as Meier notes, Biotronik hired several cardiologists in mid-2008 from the hospital as consultants. Company documents indicate these doctors received as much as $5,000 a month.

"I really can't talk about the investigation, but it has been brought to our attention and the board is going to take an initial look into the situation," said Doug Cooper, executive director of the Board of Medical Examiners, according to the Las Vegas Sun. He also didn't indicate whether  the probe came as a result of the NYT piece or was under way beforehand.

In a statement, UMC CEO Kathy Silver defends her institution. "We believe our mention in the recent New York Times article was due to the large volume of cardiac procedures performed at UMC utilizing the Biotronik device. As is the case with most physician groups in Southern Nevada, we are one of many hospital providers in the Valley where Nevada Heart and Vascular practices, preferentially using Biotronik devices, and upon whom we rely for the provision of quality cardiac care." She also points out that UMC has never had a recall of the Biotronik device,  and results demonstrate improved outcomes for those patients who receive them.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has stepped in, asking state health officials to see whether the dealings involved improper billing practices or patient safety issues, according to a spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner, according to the NYT.

- see the NYT article
- here's the original NYT report
- check out the Sun's story
- get Silver's statement posted at