http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/ ... 2010-10-21
It makes you wonder how many unnecessary drugs were prescribed just to keep the gravy train running.How much money was your doctor paid by a drug company?
It's no secret that many doctors get paid by pharmaceutical companies to talk to other docs—about general conditions, research trends or specific drugs—or to provide expertise for company research. But what has long been undisclosed is the amount of money that these drugmakers were giving physicians for their time.
Thanks in part to some high-profile U.S. federal court settlements, some of that information has started to come into public view. But because payment information has been reported differently by different companies, it's been hard to glean a clear sense of just how much money many of these doctors were making. Although figures on prescription patterns are difficult to obtain, many worry that money, meals and trips from pharmaceutical companies could bias doctors' prescribing habits.
A new "Dollars for Docs" database, assembled in part by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica, now allows people to look up the names of their health provider to see how much they might have collected recently from some of the major pharmaceutical companies—a figure that might have been unclear even to the doctors themselves, Tracy Weber, a ProPublica reporter who worked on the project, said in a conference call on Thursday.
In all, the data cover some $257.8 million dollars in pharma payments to doctors made since the beginning of 2009.
The totals in the database, however, are not the full picture. In fact, only seven of the dozens of drug-makers that give speaking awards and other honoraria to doctors, have made their payments public. The companies included in the database (AstraZeneca, Cephalon, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck and Pfizer) make up a little more than a third of all prescription drug sales in the U.S. in 2009, Charles Ornstein, a ProPublica senior reporter and collaborator on the project, noted during the call.
And, Weber said, as court documents have made clear, drug companies seem to have firm control over the content of drug company-funded talks—providing presentation slides and scripts that often at least mention a company's drugs. Some doctors were paid handsomely for speaking to an audience of one, and others were paid to be trained by a company that had no intention of sending them out to talk. ProPublica's report also revealed that many of the doctors who were backed with pharma money lacked proper specialist credentials for the field they were discussing or were even under investigation for medical or other misconduct.
ProPublica plans to update the database as more figures become available in the future. But with the inclusion of the Physician Payment Sunshine Act in the recent healthcare overhaul, all payments to doctors from pharma companies will be required to be made public by 2013. "That will make our database obsolete," Ornstein said. "We welcome that."
Fortunately with "Obamacare" these kickbacks will become public information.