Doctors, drugs and money: new disclosure rules coming

Selling drugs and medicines in doctor's office in rear of country store. Faulkner County, Arkansas, 1940 Marion Post Wolcott, American (US Farm Services Administration photo)

Doctors are supposed to put their patients’ best interests ahead of their own financial concerns but pharmaceutical and medical device makers have been spending a lot of money to influence doctors’ choices for decades. Now there’s a big change coming.

Large numbers of doctors receive payments from drug and device companies every year — sometimes into the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars — in exchange for providing advice and giving lectures. Analyses by The New York Times and others have found that about a quarter of doctors take cash payments from drug or device makers and that nearly two-thirds accept routine gifts of food, including lunch for staff members and dinner for themselves.

The Times has found that doctors who take money from drug makers often practice medicine differently from those who do not and that they are more willing to prescribe drugs in risky and unapproved ways, such as prescribing powerful antipsychotic medicines for children.

If they sell one product that is covered by Medicare or Medicaid (who pay $100 billion each year for these things), companies will soon have to report payments to all doctors who are not their employees and the information will be posted on a public website.

The Obama administration estimates that more than 1,100 drug, device and medical supply companies will have to file reports, generating “large amounts of new data.” Federal officials said they would inspect and audit drug company records to make sure the reports were accurate and complete.

According to ProPublica, some drug companies appear to be cutting back on their payment to doctors already.