Medtronic Consultant Avoids Disciplinary Action for Violating University’s Conflict-of-Interest Policy

Dr. David Polly, a prominent University of Minnesota spinal surgeon, will not face disciplinary action for failing on three occasions to tell the school about his financial relationship with device maker, Medtronic, Inc. According to a report from the Pioneer Press, concerns about Polly’s relationship with Medtronic had been raised by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in 2009, when he questioned $1.2 million in consulting fees the doctor had received from Medtronic over a five-year period.

Polly had served as head of orthopedic surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center before joining the University of Minnesota in 2003. According to the Minneapolis Post, this is not the first time Polly’s relationship with Medtronic has raised questions. In 2009, he resigned from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Board after being criticized for not reporting his relationship with Medtronic when he testified before a Congressional committee three years earlier. Polly’s testimony had touted the benefits of Medtronic’s Infuse bone graft product for wounded military veterans. However, he told the committee he was representing the Academy, and never revealed that he had billed Medtronic $7,000 for his appearance in Washington.

Grassley voiced concern that consulting fees like those Polly received would induce surgeons to use or recommend Medtronic devices even if less expensive or better alternatives existed, or cause them to recommend expensive spinal surgeries over other therapies. An earlier whistleblower lawsuit against the company that had also mentioned Polly had raised similar concerns, the Pioneer Press said.

In November 2009, the University of Minnesota formed a special committee to investigate Polly’s Conduct. According to the Pioneer Press, the investigation found that while Polly had not followed the institution’s policies for disclosing conflicts of interest to the letter, he did not commit fraud or misrepresent facts. A letter released yesterday by the University’s general counsel found that Polly violated the school’s disclosure requirements three times:

  • In December 2008, he failed to disclose his consulting relationship with Medtronic on a research poster submitted to the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons for a conference.
  • In a 2007 paper, he failed to disclose his Medtronic consulting relationship in a paper published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma.
  • Polly was unable to demonstrate sufficient compliance with disclosure requirements in connection with another study that appeared in the medical journal Spine.

According to the Pioneer Press, the University investigation determined that Polly did not mislead a conflict-of-interest review committee at the University in 2006 when he said that Medtronic’s Infuse bone graft was the only device of its kind on the market. Grassley had pointed out in one of his letters that Stryker Corp. offered a competing product, but the review committee determined there were “significant differences between the availability and use of Medtronic’s Infuse and Stryker products.”

Grassley had also questioned whether Polly had violated the University’s conflict-of-interest policy by communicating certain study results to Medtronic prior to a public release of results. But in their letter, school officials said “there is no evidence Dr. Polly submitted study findings to Medtronic prior to presenting the study’s findings publicly,” according to the Pioneer Press.

Rather than taking disciplinary action against Polly for the three violations cited in the letter, the University has issued him a cautionary letter asking that he do a better job of disclosing financial conflicts of interest in the future, the Pioneer Press Said.

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