Study links sales reps at hospitals to higher healthcare costs

A new Canadian study links sales reps at hospitals with escalating health costs. But an industry group downplays the findings as outdated, reflecting practices that have already changed.

The team, led by Dr. Shahar Lavi of London Health Sciences Center in Ontario, found that stent procedures cost $1,703 on average when a salesperson was present. When a sales rep was absent, the average cost dropped to $1,468, Reuters reports. Overall, sales representatives appeared at 563 out of 1,178 stenting procedures performed on 1,109 patients at the hospital from 2008 to 2009. American Heart Journal published their study results.

Hospital executives took the finding seriously enough that they have subsequently restricted sales representatives from any working areas except for training, Lavi told the news service.

But Dr. Theodore Bass, president of The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, told Reuters the numbers might be unique because new stent technologies were emerging in 2008 and 2009, which could have hiked short-term costs. He added that many academic centers today "have very tight rules and regulations" governing medical device and drug company sales activities.

A representative from the Advanced Medical Technology Association told Reuters that sales representatives do their jobs honorably and work to uphold ethical standards and legal requirements.

The research team concluded that part of the higher price tag came from an increased use of drug-eluting stents, which are more expensive than the bare-metal variety. About 56% of procedures when sales reps were present involved the drug-eluting stents, versus 51% when they weren't there, the story notes. It cites this result in the face of ongoing discussion about whether drug-eluting stents are more effective than the bare-metal option, at least in lower-risk patients. Additionally, the research team found that companies' drug-eluting stents were used more often when a salesperson was at the ready, with competitors' stents getting the short shrift.

The American Heart Journal published the study.

- here's the Reuters story
- check out the journal abstract