A long-time editor of a prestigious medical journal started his editorial on physicians’ conflicts of interest by describing a fantasy: “Doctors treat patients using simply the best evidence and their experience. They are not influenced by money or self-interest.”
“This is, of course, nonsense,” he wrote. There is a reason “pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on the influencing, education, and entertainment of doctors around the world.”
Why is this important?
First, research shows these payments influence doctors in their choice of treatments. Second, our national telephone polls have consistently found that a strong majority of consumers are concerned about these cozy relationships and think that drug makers have too much influence on doctors’ decisions about which drug to prescribe.
The bulk of consumers think doctors should inform their patients about payments they’ve received from a company whose drugs they are about to prescribe.
“A major conflict of interest is at work when a physician has accepted payments from a drug or device-making company whose products he or she then prescribes or implants,” says Marvin Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports senior medical adviser. “The Sunshine Act will be embarrassing to some and infuriating to others, but is an excellent step toward consumer protection.”
How do doctors feel about it?
Most generally approve of the gifts. However, tellingly, physicians don’t want gift relationships made public. “Physicians’ disagreement that it is inappropriate to accept gifts, but their reluctance to disclose the gift relationship to the public, suggests that they must recognize that the public would not appreciate the practice.”
How to look up your doctor
The data, which is being released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on 546,000 physicians on payments totaling more than $3.5 billion.
Though physicians don’t want these gift relationships to be public, that’s just too bad. Thanks to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the Sunshine Act was inserted into Obamacare.
“For the first time, patients will now be able to see what, if any, financial ties their own doctor has with a drug or device maker.”
The Sunshine Act was designed to give patients some insights when choosing a provider, and law enforcement agencies can also use it to see who’s getting money from industry to investigate illegal kickback schemes. Right now, it might just be embarrassing, but this could allow attorneys general to go after doctors to see the kinds of incentives they may be getting for writing a lot of prescriptions.
The drug industry spends billions trying to influence doctors, and, for the first time, you can see if your physician, or any physician, has their hand out. The database is live right now at Propublica’s Dollars for Docs page.
Doctors can’t hide anymore.
Read more about Steven Peters.