Posted by Bill Sandweg on 08 July 2015.
It turns out that a lot of doctors in Arizona and elsewhere in the country are receiving very substantial amounts of money from pharmaceutical companies and medical device makers. For the longest time, this information was a closely kept secret. Now the government requires the pharmaceutical companies and device makers to report their payments and the reasons for the payments. You can find a link here which will allow you to look up physicians by name or by state to see who is receiving payments. The payment data here is for August of 2013 through December of 2014, essentially one and one-half years of payments. As you can see, the payments fall into a number of categories, including royalty payments for inventions or medications developed by the recipients, speaking fees, consulting fees, and promotional fees. The promotional fees are the ones paid by the pharmaceutical companies to encourage the physicians to prescribe their products. There is a related article here which discusses the issues.
It is important not to assume that those doctors who receive payments are doing something wrong or are compromising their professional integrity. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical companies are spending many millions of dollars to influence doctors to prescribe their products. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Clearly the pharmaceutical companies believe they are getting their money’s worth and, since the medicines they are promoting are all on patents and often quite expensive, to the extent they are successful in their efforts, we pay perhaps more than we should for medications. As I discussed in a post on PODS (Physician Owned Distributorships), the physicians who owned these distributorships were much more likely to operate on their patients and place the surgical equipment they were selling through their PODS. The profit motive affected their professional judgment in a way which was probably detrimental to their patients and which definitely increased the costs we all share to keep our medical system operating. As patients we should never forget that our doctors are human beings who are subject to many of the same temptations as the rest of us and who sometimes fail, as do we all.
These reports about payments to physicians are nothing more than another piece of information which should be considered by every consumer in evaluating the advice he or she receives from their physician. Use it wisely.