You may or may not know that doctors in this country are getting pampered and paid off by the pharmaceutical industry at large, at an alarming rate. The perks run the gamut from visits by sexy sales reps offering free lunch to hosted gourmet dinners and sizeable payments to act as “thought leaders” for drug manufacturers.
Yep, the pharma industry spends an estimated $24 billion marketing directly to doctors, often to boost off-label prescriptions. Ouch.
Who caught comedian John Oliver’s hilarious rant/report on this whole topic two weeks ago?
It’s a bit long, but if you haven’t seen it yet, I guarantee it’s the best 17 minutes you’ll have spent in a while:
There’s been a whole lot of media response, as you may imagine – including coverage in Rolling Stone and Time magazine, and a Forbes column by John LaMattina, former president Pfizer Global R&D, who takes major offense. “In (Oliver’s) view, doctors are corrupt and their prescribing practices are governed by payments and perks from pharmaceutical companies. Do people think so little of doctors that they believe this?”
Weeellll… the fact is, a whole lot of this “soft persuasion” has been going on in the pharmaceutical industry for a very long time.
That was the impetus for the Physician Payments Sunshine Act passed in 2010, requiring doctors to disclose payments.
And as Oliver points out, we should all be looking up our doctors RIGHT NOW at the recently established federal website OpenPaymentsData.CMS.gov, which enables average citizens to search by physician name for perks they may have received from pharma companies.
I looked up mine, and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that she had only received a little over $8,000 in total payments from a variety of companies in 2013 (the only year of data accessible right now). Despite running a ton of clinical trials and speaking all over the country, the largest payment my doc got from a single company was a $2,200 speaking honoraria. Nothing too outrageous there. Whew.
btw, the database is amazing – it actually breaks down every payment from every source, in this case down to a $6.25 Food & Beverage compensation from Eli Lilly. It lists Research Payments and Ownership in Companies separately, so you can see what your doctor’s up to, and check for any potential conflicts of interest.
Now the CMS folks just need to catch up on 2014 records, and add the ability to view more recent data from the current calendar year.
This sure is gonna make it hard for any greedy doctors to quietly pocket big sums going forward!
That being said, according to Salon.com, there are at least 5 shady ways the drug industry is able to continue influencing our doctors:
- spying on their prescribing habits (!) through sales of database information
- continuing medical education (CME) courses “taught” for free by Pharma-funded specialists
- ghostwriting to make it easy for doctor’s to get published in medical journals
- speakers bureaus – an industry lecture circuit where docs “can net tens of thousands in additional income”
- pharma-funded clinical trials “yielding as much as $10,000 per patient in some cases”
Ugh… Sorry Mr. LaMattina, but yes: thanks to the temptations of wily pharma, it seems plenty of people do have good reason to be suspicious of doctors’ ethics.
How do you all feel about yours?