Published on:

Failing to Blow the Whistle: DePuy Hip Implant Documents Unearthed

Patients who are harmed by medical malpractice often have to go through various stages of a lawsuit before finally getting straight answers about what happened in their case–or that of their loved one. Unfortunately, obfustication and attempting to cover up errors is far too common in the medical setting. It is obvious why individual professionals might want to cover up their own mistakes. But what makes things even more difficult is that colleagues or others with knowledge of the situation rarely speak up either. The result is that a code of silence permeates in some medical settings. That failure to speak up can prevent those harmed from learning about their situations. In other settings the silence may also allow more and more patients to be harmed.

The New York Times recently shared a story on this issue, using the metal-on-metal DePuy hip recall as an example.

DePuy Hip Recall Delayed
As most readers know, DePuy Orthopaedics–a company owned by Johnson & Johnson–issued a recall two years ago on two sets of metal-on-metal hip implants used in hip replacement surgeries. Tens of thousands of medical patients received the implants in the few years before the recall. The total percentage of hips which may ultimately fail and cause injury remains unknown, but it has already proven to be far too high.

The first DePuy lawsuit is now at trial, and more information in emerging about exactly what officials likely knew and when they knew it. Notably, internal memos indicate that medical consultants paid by Johnson & Johnson told executives that they should downplay marketing of certain implants until more information was learned about why the implants were failing at higher than normal rates. However, those concerns were downplayed and the implants were installed in thousands of more patients–over at least a two year period–before the pressure on the company was so great that a recall was finally issued.

All of this raises a major question: Why didn’t the doctors speak out? Why are we only hearing about these issues years later, after thousands of innocent patients may have been harmed?

The answer is complex, but many argue that the continued silence of doctors regarding dangerous medical products, including implant devices and medications, is a problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, one doctor involved in heart device safety admitted that “the standard in the medical community is not to report.”

Aversion to paperwork, busy schedules, and uncertainty about their suspicions may all lead to doctor’s unwillingness to speak up when they notice problem. In other cases, financial incentives might play a role. Many doctors who are most familiar with the safety (or lack of safety) of certain devices are paid consultants with drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. Speaking out will obviously affect those companies (and their own pocketbook). This is not necessarily to say that doctors always care more about money than patient safety. Instead, there are many more psychological issues at play. One professor familiar with the subject explained, If someone has been paying you or employing you, it is very difficult to blow the whistle. It offends our sense of loyalty.”

See Other Blog Posts:

Hip Implant Company Knew About High Failure Rate

Metal on Metal Hip Implants & The FDA Approval Process