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Expensive new nerve test stirs controversy

A company called Neurometrix recently introduced a system that checks patients for nerve disease and has targeted the system for use by general practitioners. Its introduction to the market has not been painless.

Many neurologists and others are concerned that general practitioners, even equipped with the device, are incapable of discovering the true cause of a patient’s symptoms. One incidence of medical malpractice occurred when a general practitioner used the device to diagnose arm numbness as carpal tunnel syndrome when the actual cause was a brain tumor.

Another area of concern is the manufacturer’s marketing methods. It is currently under investigation for violations of the federal antikickback laws. Several former employees and Neurometrix documents describe a program rewarding physician-customers who find other doctors to purchase the system. Rewards include give-away biosensors, which typically cost the doctor $200 a box. Neurometrix’s advertising also prominently declares that the device is a billable procedure. This technique is worrisome because it leads to doctors performing diagnostic tests rather than taking the time to discuss symptoms with patients and discovering the best method of treatment.

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