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Are physician-owned distributorships (PODs) ethical?

John Bazemore/AP

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Having “hardware” in the human body is nothing new -- people who have had orthopedic surgeries have long been setting off metal detectors -- but many doctors take issue with implanted devices sold by PODs, or physician-owned distributorships. PODs are groups of doctors, usually surgeons, who purchase implanted devices like screws, prostheses, or spinal hardware from a distributorship that they own. The physicians profit from the sale of medical implants, raising ethical questions about whether it’s okay to bring in a profit from their own referrals.

RELATED:  Selling the Spine - full investigative piece by Karen Foshay

POD opponents argue that physicians profiting from device sales are getting a kickback, often overcharging hospitals and patients. POD owners claim to save hospitals money, and some say they operate transparently.

Are PODs ethical? Is it fair for a physician to profit on the hardware implanted during surgery? Might that incentivize more invasive procedures?



Dr. Scott Lederhaus, board member at the Association for Medical Ethics, and surgeon at the Inland Neurosurgery Institute

Dr. John Steinmann, director of Spine Trauma at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Assistant Clinical Professor at Western University