There Will Be Blood and Money
And a lawsuit. And many, many questions about the relationship between a local hospital and the world’s largest medical device company.
In the eyes of hospital leaders, Gossman wasn’t a whistleblower at all, but an opportunist. Knowing that he was going to be fired for his behavior, he set about to manufacture a smokescreen of explosive conflict-of-interest allegations. To be sure, Gossman certainly sounded like a whistleblower at times. In a letter to a hospital official, for example, he wrote that many cardiologists believed the Endeavor stent was “suboptimal” and that Lahey’s alleged conflicts of interest with it “compromise patient care.” What’s curious about the letter, though, is that Gossman didn’t send it until after he was fired.
Around the hospital, Gossman didn’t strike some people as a doctor particularly concerned about conflicts of interest. Two doctors who trained under him said they don’t remember the issue ever inciting much passion in him. And when Massachusetts’ new medical ethics rules were being debated in the state legislature in 2008, Gossman added his signature to a letter protesting them (on the grounds that they would inhibit medical innovation). Danehy, the Lahey spokesman, claims Gossman articulated his concerns over Medtronic stents only once, at the August staff meeting — and that was after Lahey’s CEO had already signed the paperwork to fire him.
Just because he wasn’t seen as someone intensely concerned with ethics, Gossman says, doesn’t mean the issue didn’t matter to him. “For better or worse, the only funding of medical research is private funding — all the innovations come out of private companies. That’s just the way it is,” he says. “But, and this has been an issue of mine, how close [of a relationship] is too close?”
THAT IS A QUESTION THAT SOMEONE other than Gossman will have to answer. In March, in a required filing with the SEC, Medtronic revealed that its relationship with the Lahey Clinic and its doctors is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. Whatever the feds find, the allegations are powerful enough to cloud the reputation of two well-respected physicians, a highly regarded department, and a renowned hospital.
Gossman’s lawsuit may have launched a federal investigation, but it isn’t going to uncover any more bombshells. Around the time of Medtronic’s SEC filing, Lahey and Gossman agreed to a settlement, the terms of which include a stipulation that bars both sides from further discussing the case.
That hardly means the matter is over, however. In the time that it was open, Gossman’s case revealed the inner workings of one of the world’s great hospitals, and laid bare the messy, if necessary, symbiotic relationships between physicians and medical technology companies. It also ended up damaging almost everyone involved. “It’s a very sad situation for both sides,” says a former Lahey staffer. “It’s a very sad situation all around.”