NYT report highlights Biotronik sales tactics

The New York Times' Barry Meier has a new report out about Biotronik's sales practices. In his latest story, Meier offers what he calls "a portrait of an implant industry" in which producers try to influence what brand of device patients will receive before a diagnosis. Indeed, some experts say that sales tactics and not scientific data, can determine which company's device a patient gets. This state of affairs exists, these experts say, because doctors lack an independent source of data about which implants work best or last longest.

According to Meier's report, devicemakers recruit both implant specialists and general cardiologists, who refer patients. Those cardiologists (aka feeders) can received up to $4,800 a patient by enrolling the referred patients in a company-financed study. The Justice Department has been looking into Biotronik's sales and marketing practices; however, neither the company nor its consultants have not been accused of wrongdoing, Meier points out.

As Citi's Matthew Dodds says in a note, Biotronik's share of the market has grown to about 5 percent from 1 percent. While the company attributes this rise to better products, internal documents suggest that the success is also attributable to developing relationships with doctors who can influence which brand of device a patient gets. Meier in particular highlights the company's relationship with Tucson cardiologist Monty Morales, who is the subject of several memos.

Earlier this year, Meier, who has been monitoring Biotronik for some time now, pointed out that Biotronik "has cornered the market on pacemakers and defibrillators at the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada." In fact, 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.

The devicemaker fired back in a statement, saying it had "well-documented exchanges of information" with the NYT for the 73 days prior to publication, and the two parties had discussed the subject "no less than a dozen times." But even though Biotronik says it provided the paper information making it clear it had done nothing unethical or illegal, "the newspaper chose to ignore these facts," instead electing to challenge "the integrity of highly trained physicians who have spent a lifetime treating patients with potentially deadly heart arrhythmias and pacing issues."

- see the latest NYT report