Is your doctor in bed with the drug companies?
Many doctors have financial ties to drug and device makers, whether it’s an oncologist getting paid to make a speech about a new cancer drug or a primary care physician giving out samples of a certain brand of allergy medicine.
Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with these relationships, the federal government wants you to be aware of just how deep the affiliations go.
|Is your doctor getting paid to push the drug that he’s prescribing?|
As part of the federal health care reform law, every drug company and device maker must begin revealing the names of all doctors who’ve been given consulting fees, gifts, entertainment, food, travel, education, research funding and speaking fees. This takes effect March 31, 2013.
The idea is to keep an eye out on how much the pharmaceutical and medical device industries may influence patient care. For instance, you may want to know whether a doctor who pushes an expensive cholesterol drug despite its side effects gets paid by the drug’s maker to promote it.
But you don’t have to wait until 2013 to find out whether your doctor’s care is, well, doctored.
The watchdog website ProPublica is investigating financial ties between the medical community and the drug and device industries. The site has compiled a gigantic list of payments that some drug companies make to physicians and put together a database so patients can look up their doctors. These companies, such as Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, began reporting this information publicly as a condition of settling federal whistle-blower lawsuits or because they were under pressure from lawmakers, according to ProPublica.
Between 2009 and the second quarter of 2011, doctors and health care providers in ProPublica’s database were paid more than $760 million by 12 companies. (I did a cursory check of my former primary care physician and found out that in 2010, Pfizer paid him a whopping $13 under the category listed, “Meals.”)
The database also ranks doctors’ honoraria by insurance company and by state. It reveals that Pfizer’s top-paid physician consultant, Dr. Christiana Goh Bardon, runs a hedge fund in Boston that bets on the success or failure of health care companies. Bardon was paid nearly $308,000, according to ProPublica.
Diane Bieri, executive vice president and general counsel for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group, told ProPublica that consumers will benefit from this transparency if the information is put into context.
“If the only information that’s available is that company A paid doctor B $75,000 for a consulting arrangement, that’s typically not enough information to really educate the patient about what was involved in the relationship,” Bieri says.