Top Doctor 23. October 2008 William Davis (2) Dr. Robert Connors is the hospital’s most prized cardiologist. Practically a fixture in the cath lab, he generates more revenues for the hospital than any of his colleagues. Last year alone, he performed over 1500 procedures, bringing in $18 million dollars to the cath lab, $27 million to the hospital. Dr. Connors is very good at what he does: 55-years old, he has been involved in high-tech heart care since the “early days,” 25 years ago, when hospital procedures really took off. During his career, he has personally performed over 25,000 heart procedures and has built a reputation as a skilled operator of complex coronary procedures. Because of his skills, he enjoys a vigorous flow of referrals for procedures from dozens of primary care physicians. His skill has also earned him referrals from cardiologist colleagues who seek his abilities for difficult cases. On any day, Dr. Connors typically schedules up to 12 procedures. His entire day is spent in the cath lab, usually from 7 am until 6 pm. He meets many patients for the first time on the catheterization laboratory table as staff shave their groin, preparing for the procedure. Much of the procedure itself is not even performed by Dr. Connors, but by one or another cardiologists-in-training, a “fellow,” or member of the fellowship the hospital proudly maintains as a clinical teaching institution. Nor will Dr. Connors talk to most patients at the close of the procedure. He leaves that to either the fellow or a nurse. Dr. Connors views himself as a procedural specialist, not someone who has to take care of patients. He gave up seeing patients in his office over 10 years ago. Dr. Connors’ procedural enthusiasm gained him the attention of drug and medical device manufacturers. Because Dr. Connors lectures widely and advises colleagues, his comments can dramatically alter perceptions of the value of a technology. He has, on many occasions, catapulted an unpopular device to most-asked-for among colleagues, bringing millions in revenues to the manufacturer. One particularly lucrative arrangement he made around 10 years ago involved a “closure” device, a $400 single-use plug used to close the access site made during heart catheterizations. By swaying his colleagues at St. Matthews Hospital, 50 orders per day (one per procedure) tallied $20,000 every day, $7.1 million dollars per year for the manufacturer. Although he’d used other devices on the market, the 5,000 shares of stock he was offered encouraged him to issue glowing comments to colleagues on the superiority of this specific brand of closure device. Now over 90% of all catheterizations at St. Matthews conclude with the device manufactured by the company in which Dr. Connors maintains partial ownership. Negative comments, on the other hand, topple other products when Dr. Connors sees fit to pan them. For this reason, device and drug manufacturers run straight to Dr. Connors to gain his good graces as soon as possible after a product is released into the market. Because the competition is just as likely to do the same, it has often come down to a bidding war, the company providing the most lucrative arrangement most likely to win. Thus, Dr. Connors proudly boasts of how many times he has flown to Hawaii, Europe, and other exotic locations at industry expense. He also boasts of how, for $100,000 paid to him for a “consulting fee,” he can overturn the choice of products lining hospital shelves. As the hospital’s annual budget for coronary devices will top $84,000,000 this year, device manufacturers regard the sum paid Connors as a profitable investment. Despite his lofty status in the hospital, Dr. Connors has long expressed a love-hate relationship with St. Matthews. While he enjoys his work and has made a more than comfortable income, he has long felt that the hospital administration didn’t truly appreciate his contributions. Five years ago, he therefore demanded that he be made “Director of Research.” After all, he had hired a nurse to help him coordinate enrollment of patients into several device trials brought to him by medical device manufacturers. When he encountered an initial lukewarm response from hospital administrators, he threatened to take his “business” elsewhere to a competing hospital. St. Matthews’ administrators gave in. They provided him with the title he wanted, along with $100,000 annual “stipend.” True story, though names have been changed to protect the guilty. Is Dr. Connors just an “outlier” among colleagues who toe a more conservative line? Or does his brand of commercial enterprise in hospital heart care represent the ideal that they seek, brazenly and ambitiously seeking to expand the procedural solution to heart disease to the exclusion of patient care and real human interaction?