The Bleeding Edge, a 2018 Netflix documentary by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, covers the medical device industry, a multi-billion-dollar outfit that constantly pushes innovation regardless of whether or not the innovation is needed. Much of the new technology discussed in the documentary is on the market, to the detriment of the health of many of the users. The devices discussed in the nerve-racking documentary cover a variety of medical treatments, from birth control to joint replacement, and how each of the products meant to alleviate these health issues is instead causing life-wrecking side effects.
Aside from discussing the specific products harming medical patients, the documentary also discusses exactly how device manufacturers are able to push these damaging accessories through FDA approval and into unsuspecting patients. The Bleeding Edge is a distressing look at the modern medical field, and its findings might make you rethink any future trips to the hospital.
In a documentary full of shocking material, one of the most fascinating claims is that the medical device industry is worth $400 billion dollars. "Medical devices" are everything from EpiPens to Essure, a female sterilization device covered in The Bleeding Edge.
Kirby Dick - director of hard-hitting documentaries such as the campus exposé The Hunting Ground - spoke to The Guardian and discussed the medical device industry's steady stream of profit and what spurred him to cover it:
A wide range of people know about the problems with pharmaceuticals, but very few people know about the medical device industry and the fact that it is even less regulated than pharmaceuticals [...] We felt it was very important that the public, doctors and policymakers know about this because right now medical device companies can get away with just about anything.
The Bleeding Edge is about the medical device industry and its push for new technology, regardless of whether or not that technology is good for people. To illustrate this point, it looks at four different devices that have negatively impacted the people who used them.
The most thoroughly covered device in the documentary is Essure, a birth control device that's become known for causing an array of complications. The film also deals with cobalt joint replacement, a pelvic mesh that can fragment inside of a woman's body after insertion, and the da Vinci Surgical System, an operating method that's been used in millions of procedures worldwide. Many people who have undergone surgery with the da Vinci SS have experienced complications.
As Healthline put it as early as 2016: "One thing is certain: the da Vinci hasn't improved patient outcomes as dramatically as the first wave of minimally invasive surgery did." Experts cite the laparoscope as far more effective and cost-efficient in handling difficult operations. To make matters worse, Healthline reported the da Vinci "was originally designed to do cardiovascular surgery, but it's fallen out of favor for heart surgeries.
Next, it was picked up for gynecological surgeries. In 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) remarked that the surgical robot "wasn't the best, or even the second-best option, for noncancerous gynecological surgeries" - and they have since removed the page featuring this statistic.
These claims are reinforced in The Bleeding Edge through numerous firsthand accounts. One woman who underwent surgery with the da Vinci system experienced intense pains after leaving the hospital. Ultimately, her colon fell out of her body.
The Bleeding Edge includes interviews with medical professionals who have personally dealt with the health issues the documentary explores. One such professional is Stephen Tower, an orthopedic surgeon who had a cobalt hip replacement.
While at a medical conference, Tower suffered a mental breakdown, scribbling all over the walls and ceiling of his hotel before using soap to write on the mirrors. When he was back home and in stable condition, he took blood samples from himself and found that he had 100 times the amount of cobalt in his system than normal.
When Tower opted to have his metal hip replacement swapped out for a different model, thinking the cobalt-laced metal might have something to do with his symptoms, the operating surgeon indeed found "metal sludge" seeping from the device into Tower's body. Tower said, "Within a month I had an incredible recovery in terms of my psychologic symptoms and ability to think."
It turns out that "hundreds of thousands of people in the world may have been exposed to toxic metals from 'metal on metal' hip implants," The Guardian reported, as per an investigation between The British Medical Journal and BBC Newsnight in 2012.