(This post was initially published on the National Physicians Alliance blog, January 22 2012)
Recently, National Public Radio's program "On the Media" discussed the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. This legislation (PDF; a useful overview is available here--also
a PDF) was part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care at and
requires that pharmaceutical companies (PhRMA) disclose how much they
pay physicians in compensation for being consultants, on speaker's
bureaus, etc. The rules that were released in December 2011 go even
further than many expected: PhRMA and medical device makers will need to
disclose how much they pay physicians for speaking at formal CME
There are many physicians who will claim that these talks are
educational--whether at CME, or at industry-sponsored events. They will
also claim that they only speak on behalf of medications and/or
companies they believe in. However, ProPublica's excellent Dollars for Docs investigative series has detailed ways in which PhRMA and other industry actively seek to control physician's presentations and often target the speaking physician as much as their audience. However, there are rising concerns that these relationships might not only raise costs, but could lead to harm or promote care that might not be in patients' best interests.
If physicians and industry are proud of these relationships, then
they should be wiling to open their books for patients' review. If we
are receiving medical advice and care from professionals, we should be
able to know if their interests might be skewed based on their
relationships with industry. The Sunshine Act will help accomplish
this: patients will be able to review who pays their physicians, and can
make their own decisions as to whether this has any impact on care. In
return, putting this information out in the open will encourage
physicians to be transparent and encourage us to provide evidence-based
care that is patient-centered.
Until the Sunshine Act's database is available online, I recommend using ProPublica's searchable database
to see if your physicians are getting paid by PhRMA and medical device
manufacturers. What you find might be revealing...and your physician's
response if you ask them about payments might be surprising. I readily
admit that not all these connections are necessarily bad...but in that
case there should be even less need to hide them.
NPA has a strong position about conflicts of interest in medicine, which led to our Unbranded Doctor
campaign. Patients deserve unbiased medical care, and physicians
should be held to that standard. We are willing to do our part.