Providing Light on the Sunshine Act

Written by Yusef Sayeed, MD, MPH, MEng, CPH, NPA FDA Task Force Member

Recently, I was invited to a local medical society meeting. The promotional flyer promised “a nice dinner followed by the speaker (topic outlined in the notice).” It did not mention any pharmaceutical industry sponsorship. When I arrived at the meeting I was asked to sign in at a desk outside of the restaurant. Again at this desk there was no indication that this was a sponsored event by a pharmaceutical company—no signage to indicate this. Also, the pharmaceutical representative did not disclose that she was an industry representative and she did not wear a badge to indicate this representation.

In short, I did not know this was a sponsored event until the president of the society began to talk after dinner about pharmaceutical industry sponsorship. I felt betrayed.

I decided to speak up and indicated at the meeting that if I had known this was a sponsored event I would not have attended. My primary concern at the time was the Sunshine Act and the fact that my name would be added to a public database of industry meal recipients. I am a resident physician and had naively assumed that the local medical society would work to protect the integrity of resident physicians, not to mention our reputations. I was surprised that many of the physicians at the meeting had no idea what was reported to the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and what the Sunshine Act is. I related to them that I wanted to remain an unbranded physician and that taking gifts or money for medical education causes physicians to lose their objectivity as has been cited heavily in the medical literature.

I was also surprised that the representatives of the industry did not know how reporting works either. I was told by the representative that she wasn’t sure if one gift is reportable or gifts over the course of the year are recordable if they reach some threshold amount which she was also unclear on. She told me that each company is different in how they make this determination and that the attorneys make the final decision on how this is done.

After I expressed my displeasure over this, the medical society did the right thing and chose to pay for my meal but I believe this speaks to the bigger picture.

Some groups of physicians still don’t understand what this is all about. If it were not for the National Physicians Alliance, I would not have been able to express adequately what remaining unbranded meant to me. It means that I am committed to my objectivity in medicine, that I do not want exposure to marketing disguised as education, and that I am committed to high quality patient care.