A new law, part of Obama’s healthcare reform legislation, will require drug companies to disclose the amount of payments made to doctors not under their employment. According to U.S. officials, this includes payments made to doctors for research, consulting, speaking, travelling and entertainment.
According to a report published by the New York Times, a large number of doctors are receiving payments from drug companies, in exchange for providing advice and giving lectures. Other non-standard gifts include gifts of food.
The problem, claim consumer advocates, lies in the fact that such gifts may influence doctors’ treatment decisions and may result in higher costs for patients and consumers by encouraging the use of more expensive drugs and medical devices.
In the same report, the New York Times estimates 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”.
At the same time, “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”.
An ongoing research by ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism group, reveals that 12 drug companies have paid more than $761 million to physicians. That is, $761 million in disclosed payments, when the actually payments are probably much higher.
While it is legal for drug companies to pay medical professionals to promote their products, the topic of conflict of interests remains unaddressed.
Allan J. Coukell, a pharmacist and consumer advocate at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told the NYT:
Patients want to know they are getting treatment based on medical evidence, not a lunch or a financial relationship. They want to know if their doctor has a financial relationship with a pharmaceutical company, but they are often uncomfortable asking the doctor directly.
As part of Obama’s plans, the new legislation would require the public reporting of the financial ties between doctors and drug makers, allowing “patients to make a better-informed decision when choosing health care professionals and making treatment decisions”.