Thursday, October 21, 2010

Patients may ask about “Dollars for Docs”

Patricia Lindholm, MD,
2010-2011 MMA President
This week I was interviewed for a story by KARE 11 TV about a recent public listing of physicians who have received payments from pharmaceutical companies. We commonly get reporter requests requiring a quick turnaround, and this was one of them. In the middle of a clinic day, I had less than two hours to respond – fortunately, I was able to do the interview on the telephone.

As part of the federal health care reform legislation there will be a requirement for all pharmaceutical companies to report payments to physicians (speaker’s fees or consultant fees) by 2013. This year a few companies published their information and it was noted that over $3 million has been paid to Minnesota physicians from these companies., NPR, and other media have made the information searchable by physician and call the project "Dollars for Docs."

KARE11 Reporter Kyle Porter was concerned about how patients should react to the issue of physicians being paid by pharmaceutical companies to promote their drugs. He was concerned that doctors may have a conflict of interest in prescribing drugs they have promoted rather than prescribing alternatives that would be more appropriate for the patient based on cost or other factors.

Earlier this year the MMA issued a policy statement regarding the relationship of physicians and industry that essentially says we disapprove of physicians accepting gifts from pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. Furthermore, the MMA supports making industry payments to doctors for services such as speaking, consulting, or doing research public and transparent. 

You may get questions from patients who have seen this story in various media outlets. If they ask about whether you are prescribing a drug due to relationships with industry, do not be surprised. If your name is on the list of physicians who have received payment from industry I encourage you to be transparent about that arrangement with the patients who ask. 

Personally, I am glad the days are in the past when we were offered free ski vacations, luxury accommodations, expensive meals, etc in the guise of “consulting.” Such offers were tempting, but ethically compromising. Yes, I suppose a pen or pad of paper is a minor trinket, but apparently research has shown that even small tokens subliminally affect prescribing habits.  I guess we are as human as “the next guy.”

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