Dollars for Docs: Payments from Pharmaceutical Companies Disclosed

Have you ever been compensated by a pharmaceutical company? Payments and other forms of compensation given to medical providers by the pharmaceutical industry are a hot topic right now. As part of the changing face of healthcare in our country, advocates are calling for transparency when it comes to kickbacks and one organization is ahead of the game. 

Payments to physicians, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants from the pharmaceutical industry to promote branded drugs have taken heat in recent months. News sources have published stories about physicians paid thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars each year to speak on behalf of, and promote new medications. Patients and advocacy groups are concerned that when a provider's interests lie with a certain brand, prescribing habits are one-sided and the best interest of the patient neglected. Doctors and other healthcare providers argue that they have the right to be compensated for work they do outside of their medical practice and that promoting new drugs helps keep providers informed improving patient care.

In response to the controversy, the U.S. government passed the Physician Sunshine Act as part of health care reform. The act requires that all pharmaceutical and medical device companies publicly report payments and other transfers of value to physicians and teaching hospitals. The first published disclosures are expected to be released this coming September and will cover data from the second half of 2013. 

While the government is intervening to help achieve transparency, one organization is a step ahead of the game. ProPublica's Dollars for Docs database tracks payments made by 15 pharmaceutical companies to medical providers. The program stores data, in some cases back to 2009, helping patients stay informed about where their provider's interests may lie. 

While some providers are concerned about the release of pharmaceutical data to the public, it serves our healthcare system well. Both branded drugs and generic medications play an important role for in caring for patients. Providers speaking for pharmaceutical companies on behalf of brand name medications deserve to be compensated for their time and effort in educating other medical providers. On the other hand, patients must be informed if their medical provider may have a bias towards certain treatments. Rather than attacking providers who profit from the pharmaceutical industry, the compensation data should be used to spark healthy discussion.

I didn't expect to find myself listed in the Dollars for Docs database. I almost never attend dinners sponsored by drug reps simply because I don't have time. And, working in a less affluent area, it's rare that a member of the pharmaceutical industry steps through the doors of the hospital where I work. Out of curiosity, I searched my name anyway and to my surprise I was listed. 

Apparently in 2010 I attended a dinner sponsored by drug manufacturer Cephalon that cost a grand total of 37 dollars. I don't remember the meal, but I do recall frequent visits from a Cephalon rep to the clinic where I worked at the time. 

The Dollar for Docs database is a prime example of the growing trend toward transparency in our healthcare system.  Are you listed?