Although 74% of Americans take a dim view of doctors receiving payments from pharmaceutical companies, over 17,000 physicians are doing just that, and some of them are receiving huge quantities, a new investigation from ProPublica reveals. The investigation was a joint venture with ProPublica, a not-for-profit independent newsroom, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Chicago Tribune, Consumer Reports, The Boston Globe and NPR.
According to ProPublica, over 17,000 health care professionals, the majority of them doctors, have been identified as having received money from drug companies since the beginning of 2009. Some of the health care professionals include dietitians, nurse practitioners and pharmacists.
In a communiqué, ProPublica inform:
We compiled data from seven companies, covering $257.8 million in payouts since 2009 for speaking, consulting and other duties.
384 of them received over $100,000 since the beginning of 2009, 43 of them over 200,000 and two doctors were given over $300,000.
Below are details of the top ten earners(Link to full list):
- A doctor specialized in Internal Medicine; Endocrinology and Metabolism – Nevada
Total received since 2009 – $303,558
- A doctor specialized in Neurology – Tennessee
Total received since 2009 – $302,125
- A doctor specialized in Internal Medicine; Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism – Tennessee
Total received since 2009 – $257,012
- A doctor in Alabama
Total received since 2009 – $255,170
- A doctor specialized in Internal Medicine; Endocrinology and Metabolism – Florida
Total received since 2009 – $254,263
- A doctor specialized in Internal Medicine; Cardiovascular Disease – Texas
Total received since 2009 – $250,450
- A doctor specialized in Anesthesiology – California
Total received since 2009 – $249,822
- A doctor specialized in Anesthesiology; Pain Medicine – Missouri
Total received since 2009 – $243,457
- A doctor specialized in Medical Oncology – North Carolina
Total received since 2009 – $240,150
- A doctor specialized in Internal Medicine; Cardiovascular – Tennessee
Total received since 2009 – $240,100
The comprehensive database is available to the public (link at bottom of this page), informs ProPublica. It includes doctors who have received money from seven pharmaceutical companies which disclosed this information – they include Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Cephalon and AstraZeneca. ProPublic says some of these companies have disclosed the information voluntarily as a gesture of goodwill, while others were forced to do so.
Giving money to doctors in this way is not against the law. In fact, ProPublica admits that a strong relationship between doctors and companies that make medications can be good, and lead to innovation and better therapies.
However, according to studies, giving doctors payments and even small gifts can undermine their professional approach. A separate Consumer Reports poll revealed that 74% of the American public think doctors should not receive money from pharmaceutical companies which ask them to encourage their peers to prescribe certain drugs.
The authors of the report warn that the 17,000 figure could be significantly higher. The current total represents data on just 7 drug companies. Over 70 companies are keeping their cards close to their chest and not revealing their data. In 2013 new legislation will force them to open up and disclose such payments – the information will be available for public viewing online.
John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said:
Consumer Reports Health has been concerned about drug companies’ financial relationship with doctors for some time. This investigation begins to pull back the shroud on these activities. The amount of money involved is astounding, and the ProPublica report’s account of the background of some of the physicians is disturbing.
Below are details of disclosed payments by seven pharmaceutical companies (Millions of US$ Dollars):
- Eli Lilly – total $102.2 – quarterly $20.4
- GlaxoSmithKline – total $86.9 – quarterly $17.4
- AstraZeneca – total $22.8 – quarterly $11.4
- Pfizer – total $19.8 – quarterly $9.9
- M Merck – total $9.4 – quarterly $4.7
- Johnson & Johnson – total $5.2 – quarterly $2.6
- Cephalon – total $11.3 – quarterly $1.9
The following states received the most money in payments from the seven pharmaceutical companies to health care professionals:
- 3,000 payments totalling $26,429,791 were made in California
- 2,761 payments totalling $23,627,924 were made in New York
- 1,946 payments totalling $18,142,469 were made in Texas
- 2,166 payments totalling $17,235,918 were made in Florida
- 1,693 payments totalling $13,959,934 were made in Pennsylvania
- 1,304 payments totalling $10,634,518 were made in Ohio
- 1,209 payments totalling $9,664,645 were made in Illinois
- 1,010 payments totalling $9,369,865 were made in North Carolina
ProPublica says it was told by the industry that top doctors in their field are contracted so that other physicians can be educated about the pros and cons of medications. After assessing disciplinary records and finding sanctions, ProPublica reveals that over 250 speakers at least had behaved “inappropriately”, examples included having sex with patients or prescribing unsuitable drugs. Forty paid doctors were given FDA warnings for research misconduct, some had lost hospital privileges, while others were convicted of crimes, the report states. Over 20 had at least two malpractice judgments or settlements.
The investigation (report), which is still ongoing, reveals that pharmaceutical companies have paid almost $7 billion in settlements, which include rewarding top prescribers and marketing drugs for off-label purposes illegally.
John Santa added:
Lets hope that this report and others that follow will convince American physicians that it is time to stop listening to pharmaceutical companies and focus on the people who are counting on them to have their medical and economic interests at heart–their patients.
Sources: Consumer Reports, ProPublica
Written by Christian Nordqvist