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U of M: Surgeon violated several conflict of interest disclosure requirements

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The University of Minnesota Medical School has sent a cautionary letter to one of its surgeons for violating several conflict of interest disclosure requirements.

The review of Dr. David Polly found that the spinal surgeon did not disclose payments he received from Fridley-based Medtronic in two published journal articles and on one research poster. 

"I thought I was doing as good a job as could be done on the disclosure and complying with the university policies," Polly said. "I came up short in two or three instances where my 'I's' weren't perfectly dotted or 'T's' crossed. I acknowledge that and completely accept the responsibility that goes with it." 

The university letter did not recommend any disciplinary action for Polly. It also noted that the doctor had otherwise "demonstrated substantial compliance" with university conflict of interest and disclosure rules.

The review was launched two years ago after Iowa Republican Charles Grassley criticized the surgeon for failing to report his Medtronic payments to members of a Senate committee in 2006. At the time, Polly was requesting Congressional funding for research that would have benefited the medical device maker.

In response to Grassley's allegations, the University of Minnesota sent a letter to the Senator in 2009 saying that Polly had properly disclosed any conflicts of interest according to the university's policy at the time. But the school promised to review the situation further. The new review eventually turned up three violations of university policy.

In a letter to MPR News, Aaron Friedman, dean of the Medical School, noted that at least one of Polly's infractions did not appear deliberate. It occurred when the surgeon failed to disclose his Medtronic consulting relationship on a research poster submitted to the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons for a conference in December 2008. Friedman said the review committee concluded that it may have been an oversight since Polly had included the disclosure on a similar poster.

Another violation occurred in a rat study published by the "Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma" that wasn't funded by the university. Ordinarily that would release Polly from the university's disclosure policy, but Friedman's letter said since Polly used his university title in the paper, he was bound by the university's disclosure rules. 

The third infraction relates to a spinal questionnaire that appeared in the journal "Spine." The Medical School Committee found that Polly couldn't prove that he sufficiently complied with university disclosure requirements. 

Polly said he understands why the government and public want to know about the financial details of physician contracts with industry. But he said the type of scrutiny could have a chilling effect on cutting edge research.

"In the surgical fields the only way that advancements are made is the collaboration between industry and physicians," Polly said. "And I don't think we want to stifle that." 

As a result of the investigations, Polly said he stopped doing consulting work for Medtronic in 2010 so that he would be free to continue his research at the university. He estimates he has spent close to a quarter of a million dollars defending himself. The university did not make a spokesperson available to discuss Polly's case.