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Do Device Reps Have a Place in the OR?

A new report form Kaiser Health News questions the ethics and effectiveness of allowing medical device salespeople in the operating room.

Qmed Staff

Most patients expect doctors and nurses to be present in the operating room (OR) when they undergo a medical procedure, but there's one person they might not expect to see: a medical device sales representative.

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According to a new report from Kaiser Health News, device reps attend procedures ranging from knee replacements and spine surgeries to ICD implantations, during which they assist surgeons and provide product expertise. In a survey conducted by researchers at Albany Medical College in New York, the vast majority of device sales representatives said they have given verbal instructions to physicians during a procedure, and more than one-third thought their participation had overstepped bounds. Moreover, some clinicians don't disclose to patients that reps will be in the room during procedures, raising ethical concerns.

Hospitals typically pay for rep presence in the equipment packages they buy from medical device companies, but such arrangements are beginning to draw scrutiny. Reps' salaries--which can top $100,000 per year, according to the Kaiser Health News report--add cost to the healthcare system, and there's not clear evidence that they add value. One hospital mentioned in the article, California's Loma Linda University Medical Center, reportedly saved $1 million per year--half the cost of the devices used in the procedures--with no difference in outcomes when it eliminated device reps in joint replacement procedures.

Still, others say device reps play a vital role in complex procedures. In the Albany Medical College survey, 40% of reps said they questioned the competence of a surgeon in procedures they sat in on. 

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