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 events.
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.
Update – February 2012
NPA’s Public Comments regarding Implementation of the Sunshine Act Provisions of the Affordable Care Act, submitted to CMS 2/17/2012