UW doctor resigns as head of orthopedics after surgery center proposal turned down

UW doctor resigns as head of orthopedics after surgery center proposal turned down

Longtime head of UW-Madison’s orthopedics department, whose payments to a medical device maker have been the subject of federal investigations and spurred greater conflict-of-interest scrutiny, has resigned from his position as president after his boss denied his plans to create a surgery center largely owned by UW doctors.

Dr. Thomas Zdeblick resigned as president on June 27 after Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said he did not approve of Zdeblick’s plan. in which he and other UW doctors would own 62% of a new Madison-area ambulatory surgery center.

“The university has a vested interest in maintaining public trust; this interest is not served by allowing UW physicians to take advantage of their academic positions for personal gain in the manner proposed,” Golden wrote to Zdeblick on June 24, according to letters the Wisconsin State Journal has. received last week in an open case request.

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Golden also said the surgery center would “deprive” UW Health of “potential revenue.” Orthopedics is one of the main revenue generators of the healthcare system.

Zdeblick, who remains a UW professor of orthopedics and director of the UW Spine Center, came under considerable public scrutiny a decade ago after a U.S. Senate investigation found he got $34 million over 15 years from Medtronic, mostly in royalties for devices he invented.

He had previously been criticized for publishing positive articles about Medtronic products in a journal he edited without disclosing those payments. The developments contributed to the passage of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which requires pharmaceutical and medical device companies to report payments to physicians.

The situation also helped lead the UW medical school to require faculty to report specific amounts of outside income instead of ranges ending in “over $20,000.”

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Zdeblick — whose main devices, the Z Plate and LT Cage, are used in spine surgery — defended his payments in a 2013 interview with the State Journal, saying he gets paid well for good ideas that improved medical care.

“They paid Bill Gates a lot of money for good ideas,” said Zdeblick, who became chair of orthopedics in 2000. “They paid Steve Jobs a lot of money for good ideas. .. Many patients come to me because I designed these things.”

Map of the surgery center

According to June letters between Zdeblick and Golden, Zdeblick offered the outpatient surgery center as “the only immediately viable solution” to what he called UW Health’s “critical lack of operating room availability.”

Zdeblick said he and other UW doctors would be members of an independent society, with SurgCenter Development, based in Palm Coast, Fla., a minority member. SurgCenter has more than 230 surgery centers, including five in Wisconsin.

Dr. Tom Zdeblick sees patients at UW Health Clinic

Dr. Tom Zdeblick examines the medical records of Tommy Haye, 17, of Janesville, at UW Health’s Research Park Clinic in 2013.


The 7,000-square-foot facility, with two operating rooms, would be located in rented space in Dane County, wrote Zdeblick, who would serve as medical director. Patients would primarily be those whose insurers “insist” on an outpatient surgery center for procedures, some of whom go to Sauk Prairie Healthcare in Prairie du Sac or Stoughton Hospital, he said.

“Professional income” would go to UW Health and any potential conflicts of interest would be “ethically managed,” Zdeblick said.

Golden wrote that Zdeblick had explained in a previous discussion that he would own 20% of the company and that the other doctors would each own 5% to 10%. Golden said the plan “may not move forward.”

Physicians, by remaining UW employees, would benefit from UW Health’s reputation, coverage and liability protections, as well as other resources, Golden said. It would violate state law and UW-Madison policies against using college positions for personal gain, he said.

Golden also said the center “would be in direct competition with the business opportunities and interests of UW Health.”

Capacity issues

In an interview, Zdeblick said some operating rooms at UW Health are unused due to insufficient anesthesia staff. He said that includes an operating room at East Madison Hospital, which opened in 2015 with a focus on orthopedics. The 56-bed hospital is increasingly being used for other types of patients, Zdeblick said.

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UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter co-own Madison Surgery Center on Park Street, an outpatient surgery center that offers several types of surgery, including gynecology, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. Zdeblick said he was not equipped for joint replacements and spine surgeries.

“We don’t have enough operating theaters for the number of patients we have to deal with,” he said. “I was trying to solve a problem.”

Zdeblick, 65, said he will retire from UW at the end of the year and is no longer pursuing a surgery center. When asked if other doctors at UW were still pursuing him, he said he wasn’t sure.

In an email, Golden said there were “intermittent issues with timely access to the operating room, as many healthcare organizations have also experienced, but at this point , we don’t have a systemic problem bringing patients in for the necessary operative care.”

Golden named Dr. Tammy Scerpella interim chair of orthopedics.

Wisconsin has 75 day surgery centers, including five in Dane County, according to the state Department of Health Services.

In addition to Madison Surgery Center, UW Health and UnityPoint Health-Meriter co-own Transformations Surgical Center, Middleton, which performs cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.

SSM Health has outpatient surgery centers on Regent Street and South Park Street. NovaMed Surgery Center, located on the West Side of Madison, is owned by Surgical Partners, based in Brentwood, Tenn., and performs eye surgeries.

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