"We can't get along without each other": Qualitative interviews with physicians about device industry representatives, conflict of interest and patient safety

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Objectives Physician relationships with device industry representatives have not been previously assessed. This study explored interactions with device industry representatives among physicians who use implantable cardiovascular and orthopedic devices to identify whether conflict of interest (COI) is a concern and how it is managed. Design A descriptive qualitative approach was used. Physicians who implant orthopedic and cardiovascular devices were identified in publicly available directories and web sites, and interviewed about their relationships with device industry representatives. Sampling was concurrent with data collection and analysis. Data were analyzed and discussed using constant comparative technique by all members of the research team. Results Twenty-two physicians (10 cardiovascular, 12 orthopedic) were interviewed. Ten distinct representative roles were identified: purchasing, training, trouble-shooting, supplying devices, assisting with device assembly and insertion, supporting operating room staff, mitigating liability, conveying information about recalls, and providing direct and indirect financial support. Participants recognized the potential for COI but representatives were present for the majority of implantations. Participants revealed a tension between physicians and representatives that was characterized as"symbiotic", but required physicians to be vigilant about COI and patient safety, particularly because representatives varied regardingdisclosure of device defects. They described a concurrent tension between hospitals, whose policies and business practices were focused on cost-control, and physicians who were required to comply with those policies and use particular devices despite concerns about their safety and effectiveness. Conclusions Given the potential for COI and threats to patient safety, further research is needed to establish the clinical implications of the role of, and relationship with device industry representatives; and whether and how hospitals do and should govern interaction with representatives, or support their staff in this regard.




Gagliardi, A. R., Lehoux, P., Ducey, A., Easty, A., Ross, S., Bell, C., … Urbach, D. R. (2017). “We can’t get along without each other”: Qualitative interviews with physicians about device industry representatives, conflict of interest and patient safety. PLoS ONE, 12(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174934

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