Does your doctor get drug-firm money?
Consumers can search database of payments made by pharmaceutical companies to health care providers.
While the project includes only seven companies, or about one-third of the market, it still provides an important look into the relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical firms.
Consumers can search the data to check whether their doctors have received money.
"All protestations to the contrary, the evidence shows that physicians are susceptible to influence," Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, director of PharmedOut, a resource for doctors, told the Chicago Tribune.
But how can consumers use the database to make sure their doctors aren't prescribing drugs based on the doctor's financial interest rather than their health?
If your doctor doesn't show up in the database, that doesn't mean he doesn't receive money from drug companies. The database includes only the seven companies whose payments to doctors have been made public, which made up about 36% of market share in 2009.
The Tribune has some advice about how to talk to your doctor about the issue. If your doctor does show up in the database, the key question to ask if whether he receives money from a company that makes a drug you use.
That drug might be the best choice for you, but you should ask questions: Why did your doctor choose that drug over another? Is there a cheaper alternative or a generic version? If you don't like your doctor's answers, consider changing doctors or getting a second opinion.
"If you have a doctor who's given a talk or two, that's not worth losing sleep over," Dr. Jerry Avorn, a professor at Harvard Medical School, told the Tribune. "But if your doctor is making tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, that's a different story."
The ProPublica investigation found 384 doctors or other providers who received $100,000 or more from the seven drug companies in 2009 and early 2010. Some of those doctors, far from being leaders in their fields, had less than stellar records or credentials.
Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, at her Heartfelt blog, noted that the average doctor in private practice makes a few talks a year in exchange for enough money from a pharmaceutical company to pay for a vacation, and most remain objective. But she notes that there are some bad apples.
The only reason I'm willing to tolerate and even applaud the searchable physician dollar database is that a few physicians and scientists have crossed over to the dark side. They are the ones with a sweaty upper lip, arms awkwardly outstretched and two fingers jutting skyward in the universal peace sign that declares, "I am not a crook." Their palms are greased to the detriment of the patient, because their focus has shifted from patient to profit. It is because of that minority that the need for transparency has arisen.
Would you trust a doctor who received payments from pharmaceutical companies? Is there a dollar limit that would make a difference to you? If the health care bill is repealed, do you think we'll ever see the rest of the data?
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