Is Advertising Changing the Practice of Orthopedic Surgeons?


Once interested only in the hearts and minds of surgeons, orthopedic device manufacturers are now taking full aim at the patient as a consumer. While not as common as ads for erectile dysfunction medications, patients and doctors alike are seeing more ads for “the latest and greatest orthopaedic device.”

One ad currently running shows a woman driving an SUV with oblong wheels, the message being that if one would not drive a car with such an impediment, then why would you want your new knee replacement to be “out of round.”

The ad provides no scientific basis for the design. In fact, a scientific article published in a recent edition of the Journal of Orthopaedic Research suggests that there may be a real disadvantage to this “round” design in terms of stability of the implant after surgery.

Many orthopedic implant companies do a good job of educating patients with respect to their upcoming arthritis surgery, and they do so without overtly trying to influence the patient’s choice of implant or surgical approach.

A 2006 survey of orthopedic surgeons, however, revealed that 88 percent of them felt that direct-to-consumer advertising was causing surgeons to change their practice and that 44 percent felt pressured by patients to use a particular device between one and five times in the previous year.

In my own practice, when a patient comes in with a specific request, I try to turn it into a positive learning experience by explaining why I do things the way that I do, and I am very open with them regarding my results and my technique.

Most will accept that explanation while a few will move on to their third and fourth consultations as they search for a surgeon that can match their consumer expectations.

If you are a physician, here are four key points for handling these types of situations:

  1. Be upfront about why you do or do not use the device.
  2. Do not disparage other providers who use the device or technique.
  3. Encourage them to go to an unbiased site such as OrthoInfo.org, a peer-reviewed patient education web site authored by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  4. Ask them to look at the larger picture of their total care experience such as the number of cases performed by both you, the surgeon, and by the hospital.

About the author

Dr. Jay Mabrey
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Dr. Mabrey specializes in hip and knee replacement surgery. He serves as the Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

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Is Advertising Changing the Practice of Orthopedic Surgeons?