Consulting flap drives U surgeon from board

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2009 - 9:27 AM

Dr. David Polly has been paid more than $1 million as a consultant for Medtronic and has been a target of a congressional probe.

A University of Minnesota surgeon has resigned from the board of a prominent orthopedic medical society following a controversy over the more than $1 million he was paid by Medtronic Inc. for consulting work.

In an Aug. 19 letter to the president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr. David Polly said media attention concerning his "consulting activities has become an unnecessary distraction" to the society's "important efforts."

Polly, the head of the U's spine surgery department, has been a target in a congressional investigation exploring the financial relationships between doctors and medical device makers. Initiated by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the probe found Polly was paid $1.2 million between 2003 and 2007 by the Fridley-based medical technology company for consulting, expenses and honoraria.

Such relationships are common -- and legal -- in the $140 billion medical technology industry. Doctors offer medical device makers advice on how to improve products; sometimes they are paid royalties for inventions commercialized by device manufacturers.

Grassley's investigation revealed that by 2007 Medtronic paid Polly $4,750 a day, or $594 an hour, with an annual cap of $400,000, and that Polly gave congressional testimony on spine surgery research without disclosing his relationship with Medtronic.

Medtronic said last month it was launching its own investigation of Polly's consulting arrangement.

Polly began working at the U in 2003 after retiring as the head of orthopedic surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, one of the nation's top military hospitals.

In his letter to AAOS President Dr. Joseph Zuckerman, Polly said he continues to "strongly believe in the need for physician-industry collaboration in order to develop better treatment for patients." But "physicians are entitled to fair market value compensation for their time," he wrote, noting he has disclosed his relationships "whenever asked."

With approximately 25,000 members, the AAOS describes itself as a "premier" not-for-profit organization that provides educational programs and support for surgeons who commonly replace knees and hips and repair ailing backs.

Polly was elected to the society's board in February for a three-year term.

Zuckerman said Polly's resignation was not requested by the society, but that he agreed with the decision nonetheless. "Dr. Polly did the right thing," he said. "I think that the issues that recently played out in the media were a distraction to him."

He said the society has strict disclosure rules regarding board members' consulting relationships with industry. The board was aware of Polly's ties to Medtronic, he noted.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

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