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Seeing a salesperson in the OR?

If someone is undergoing surgery in an operating room, there's a chance that they or one of their loved ones will see an extra person there, sometimes coaching the doctors. They aren't scrubbed in, but are often present while medical devices like new hips or knees and installing cardiac defibrillators or spine surgeries occur.

These professionals, called device reps or "health-care industry representatives," are actually salespeople from the companies that make and sell medical devices, like Johnson & Johnson or Medtronic. Hospitals buy equipment packages, and with them come the salespeople - often in neurosurgery or orthopedics.

Why are they in for surgery?

If you don't work in healthcare, it's easy to overlook these device reps, or not understand what their function is. Although these salespeople are around because they're experts on the products that these hospitals are using on their patients, some wonder if it's a good idea to have them in the OR.

The device reps don't actually perform surgery, but are there to guide doctors and answer any technical questions about their products. Their jobs depend on the relationships they form with surgeons. However, their presence begs several questions: how much influence do they really have in the OR? Are their services justified by the price? And does their presence without being disclosed to those going under the knife raise questions about ethical consent of the patient?

Recent studies and lawsuits

Some recent studies show that the public just doesn't know about these reps, and that some physicians can come to rely too much on these reps for assistance and technical knowledge, opening them up for malpractice.

Endovascular Technologies pleaded guilty in federal court to 10 felonies and paid over $92 million in civil and criminal penalties for its part in covering the true cause of 12 deaths connected to an abdominal device. An Ohio surgeon and a device rep were ordered to pay a patient $1.75 million in 2006 after the salesperson assured the surgeon that particular cement would work to seal a hole in the patient's skull after brain surgery.

And hospitals including California's Loma Linda University Medical Center have almost entirely removed device reps from orthopedic ORs. Instead, they buy their devices directly rather than through reps to avoid markups and have trained their surgical staff to take the place of the reps in the operating room. This has saved the LLUMC $1 million a year - a 50 percent savings on the devices themselves.

Medical malpractice in surgery

Of course, having a professional who is well-versed in the product a surgeon is using to improve or save a person's life available at a moment's notice in surgery is important, and surely the majority of reps are reputable. But the possibility of a surgical mistake due to information given by the device rep in the room is a frightening possibility.

For a patient, there is often no greater moment of faith in another person than when they literally put their lives in the hands of a surgeon. There are so many important variables in surgery that it's very easy for a successful surgery to be impacted negatively in a moment. The surgeon and the team that supports their work must all be performing at their highest capacity to ensure their years of education and training go into effect.

Unfortunately, things can go wrong. If it's due to a surgical error or medical malpractice, it's important to recognize the problem and get legal help immediately. If you or a loved one was affected by a botched surgery or medical implant, you may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, funeral expenses or the cost of fixing the problem. Contact an experienced attorney that specializes in medical malpractice who can help you pursue the compensation you believe you deserve.

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