Hundreds of doctors in North Carolina recieve payments from drug companies according to Charlotte public radio station WFAE. Reporter Julie Rose used a new database developed by NPR and ProPublica to see which physicians in the state are the biggest beneficiaries.
You can search for your doctor here.
Physicians explain away the payments, but we know that money can influence prescribing behavior. If drug companies did not see a return on their investment they would stop investing. There is also a perception issue. As more scandals break and more checks flow to physicians it undermines the public’s trust in the medical profession. Sometimes the appearance of a conflict of interest is as damaging as a real conflict of interest.
There is also a larger question of why academic medical centers allow drug reps on campus and why doctors take drug company payments. Does the doctor feel that he or she needs the money? Does sitting through a symposium or hawking a drug to other doctors really deepen a physician professionally?
I went to grand rounds not long ago at an academic medical center. Outside of the door to the lecture hall was a drug rep handing out pizza. I asked a few doctors about it and they said everyone basically takes a slice of pie, says “hi” to the rep and moves along. They don’t really interact at all other than exchanging a few pleasantries so the drug rep can’t have any real influence. If that’s true, I wondered, why even allow the drug rep to stand there in the first place. Can the medical center not afford pizza?
Of course, it’s not about the pizza. It’s just that the academic medical center, like many academic medical centers, has allowed drug reps to hand out pizza for many years and it never caused much disruption. It’s just the way it has always been done.
But doctors and medical centers should use health reform as an excuse to reexamine these relationships. New Physician Payment Sunshine provisions will require more disclosure and transparency about drug company and medical device maker relationships. Physicians and hospitals can avoid any potential embarassment by severing drug company ties.
There are some creative new ways to educate doctors about the latest research. One idea is outlined here by Adam Searing is called Academic Detailing. With good policy solutions, and strong leadership from academic medical centers, we can end our addiction to drug company money.