By: Ken David, Esq.

We all know from experience that there is not a high success rate for spinal
cord stimulators in a workers’ comp claim, especially ones where there is
litigation. At KDA, Jennifer Smith and Jarvis Lakemaker have been studying this
issue and below are their thoughts on a recent AP study along with a link to
the AP article. This study did not focus on workers’ comp which makes its
finding even more concerning as it shows potentially systemic issues in this

Spinal cord stimulators, long touted as a panacea for many patients
suffering from pain related injuries may in fact be oversold by physicians with
a financial incentive to minimize the risk of a device that has a
disproportionately high risk of causing additional injury. Many medical device
providers in the $400 million medical device industry have long held spinal
cord stimulators as the cure for pain and the option to elevate opioid
dependency. However, since 2017, these companies have spent $22 million to
influence and lobby for the further use of these devices. The stimulators use
electronic currents to block pain signals before they reach the brain, but the
benefits come with high risk as they have also been known to cause burns,
shocks, and even paraplegia. These devices have the third highest number of
reported medical injuries to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, with more
than 85,000 incidents tagged since 2018.

As discussed in the report, the FDA is charged with carrying out laws passed to
ensure medical devices are regulated and tested. High risk devices, like the
spinal cord stimulator, are required to undergo heightened scrutiny, however, a
loophole for devices deemed substantially equivalent allows many manufacturers
to get their devices to market with minimal testing. Once approved through the
FDA process, device makers can make substantial modifications to their products
without further review. Since 2005, over 50 of the devices have been recalled,
an average of four a year in the last five years. As it stands, medical
professionals are not required to disclose to their patients whether they
receive any compensation from device manufacturers or any other medical device

Ultimately, spinal cord stimulators may be a helpful device in a doctor’s tool
kit, especially when the concerns of opioid crisis are at the forefront of
everyone’s mind. However, it seems clear from the FDA reporting that these
devices do carry a risk, and that at times, they are overprescribed in part due
to the financial incentives provided to the doctors. Patients should be better
informed of these risks and the potential financial motivations of medical
providers before deciding if these devices are appropriate for them.

is a link to the AP article.