Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Orthopedic Implant Industry: Public Relations Advice

Instead of embracing consumer concerns about faulty orthopedic implants and joining forces with doctors and others in the medical community who recognize that surgeons and patients may also bear some responsibility for the failure of orthopedic implants, manufacturers of these devices seem to be in “public relations denial.”

What is the issue? In a recent article, The New York Times contends — and it is supported by fact — that the leading manufacturers of artificial joints do not guarantee or warrant their products, unlike heart device makers who have done so for 30 years, offering free or discounted replacements if the first surgery does not work out. And there is indeed, the article says, a failure rate due to design or mechanical problems on these artificial joints, which cost as much as $15,000 each, not including the surgery — a cost which usually falls to Medicare, insurance companies and patients.

To verify its point, the Times surveyed six of the leading orthopedic implant companies about warranties. Three did not respond to the inquiry. One said that circumstances beyond their control led to failure (“because of the multifactorial nature of the survival of an implant in a particular patient, revision surgeries are to be expected”). The rest did not say why there was no guarantee.

It is clear that the public translates lack of response to “guilty before proven innocent.” Not good. So what should be done?

Let the communications program begin! Manufacturers and physicians have a fundamental interest in common: patient safety and satisfaction. Where the fault lies is obviously a complex issue. Thus, the physicians and the producers have to collaborate on the creation of the warranty that the consumer is entitled to. They must track data on every implant failure, to assess where the defect lies. For example, is it the glue that doesn’t hold … or has the patient failed to follow exercise or weight management orders?

If it is a product defect, the manufacturer must step up to the plate. If it’s a failure on the part of the patient or physician, then it can and should be addressed … but not at the expense of the manufacturer. Further, device manufacturers and physicians should come together to develop a communications program which embraces the entire spectrum of issues surrounding implants: surgeon skills, patient postoperative compliance, the effectiveness of the implant device and design and material standards, issues surrounding the emotional well being of the patient and when the new warranty takes effect. Patient feedback on needs and other features also is critical here, if a well-rounded program is to be developed.

Why risk the future of a $6.7 billion industry where growth is as certain as longer life itself?

Technorati Tags: orthopedic implants, Medicare, The New York Times, communications, public relations, Makovsky

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