Information on Pharmaceutical Payments to Doctors Available and Soon to Expand

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act requires pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers to report all payments to doctors and physicians.  The coverage is pretty broad; covering a wide range of medical providers, manufacturers, group purchasing organizations, and teaching hospitals.

The data on payments is set to be released to the public in September of this year on a government website.  The initial data will cover payments made from August to December of 2013.

Payment Information is Available Now 

In the meantime, Propublica has created its own database of payments to doctors on its Dollars for Docs pages.  The data covers payments from 15 pharmaceutical companies to doctors and physicians.  Unlike the Sunshine Act, Propublica’s data goes back years as they have been tracking it since 2010.

The Propublica database is very easy to search.  Of note, the database can be searched by city and state broadly, by practice area and by the name of the medical provider.  When conducting a search for “Albuquerque, New Mexico,” 26 pages of results came back.

It might be worth searching to see if any of your own doctors are on the list.  Of course, the fact that a doctor received payments from a pharmaceutical company or other manufacturer does not necessarily indicate bias.  However, it is something worth knowing for a consumer in choosing a physician.

Sharp Decline in Payments Coincides with Settlements and Sunshine Act 

Though it does not indicate bias on the part of doctors who receive these payments, it is interesting to note that payments to doctors by those companies on Propublica’s list have gone down fairly sharply since the passage of the Sunshine Act.

Propublica points out that the sharp decline in payments to doctors coincides both with the passage of the Sunshine Act and the settlement of numerous federal whistleblower lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies for the improper marketing of their drugs.

Propublica further reports that $13 billion has been paid out in these settlements.  Many of these claims were based upon off-label marketing practices.  In other words, the drugs were being marketing for other than approved usages, which obviously poses danger to the public.

Patients Should Educate Themselves on Their Medications 

This transparency is important for consumers.  This is particularly true where prescriptions for certain drugs are contraindicated or are otherwise suspect for the particular condition.  This would include off-label marketing.

It is important for patients to inform themselves about their medications.  Unfortunately, there are situations where the information coming from a medical provider may not be entirely reliable.  The new Sunshine Act, along with sites like Propublica, should provide patients with the tools to learn about their medications and where there is concern to seek a second opinion before embarking on a potentially dangerous medication regimen.

The Sunshine Act and Medical Negligence Cases

Medication errors pose a very significant risk to the public.  In hospitals alone, 1.5 million American patients are harmed each day.  There is, on average, one medication per day per patient.  There are many more outpatient medication errors.

In addition, drugs may be given despite dangerous interactions with other drugs.  Drugs may be prescribed off label.  In addition, addictive drugs may be negligently prescribed.  Drugs may be prescribed without proper warnings to the patient.

In short, there are many ways patients are harmed by medication error.  Most of these errors are simply negligent or careless.  Many do not even rise to the level of medical malpractice.  However, where these errors occur and serious personal injury or wrongful death occurs, these new tools may in some situations indicate that further exploration is necessary.

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