Are drug firms paying your doctor? Illinois doctors accepted $74.1M in industry payments last year

Lorenza Villegas doesn’t think her doctors should accept free lunches or other types of payments from drug companies.

But like most consumers, she hasn’t looked up whether her physicians are among the many who receive money.

“I’ve got other things on my mind,” said the East Garfield Park woman, 67, shortly after visiting Northwestern Memorial Hospital to make an appointment with her cardiologist.

Many patients feel the same way about checking whether their doctors have taken payments from drug and device companies.

“The fact of the matter is the work I do and many people do in designing new tools and products is the way we innovate in health care so we can treat our patients better,” Romeo said. The physician said he doesn’t get compensated when he uses the devices on his own patients or when Rush uses them on patients.

Romeo doesn’t believe the database has made a difference since it was unveiled four years ago.

“I think that a few people that abuse the system led to essentially government oversight that really I don’t believe has changed anything with regard to this whole process,” Romeo said.

Kesselheim, at Harvard, said he believes the database has made a difference by increasing transparency and helping researchers investigate relationships between doctors and industry. Ideally, he said, the data could also spark conversations between patients and doctors about care.

But little research exists on how many consumers actually use it.

Kanter, the assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, published a paper this summer in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showing that before the data were first released in 2014, only 5 percent of patients surveyed knew whether their doctors had accepted payments.

Kanter and her co-authors have since followed up on that study, again surveying patients last year. Preliminary results show the percentage of patients who knew last year whether their doctors had accepted money remained at 5 percent.

It’s possible that even when consumers know they can get the data, they don’t look it up because they don’t care or because they care about other factors more when choosing a doctor, Kanter said. Convenience, a patient’s relationship with a doctor and insurance coverage may factor more heavily in a patient’s decision-making than whether a doctor has accepted industry payments.

Some patients may even like that doctors receive payments from drug or device companies. A 2014 study published in Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics found that doctors who received no payments were often viewed by patients as virtuous but also inexperienced or professionally isolated.

It’s also possible that patients don’t look up data about their doctors because they don’t know what to do with the information, Kanter said.

Should they talk to their doctors? Switch physicians? Ignore it?

“They may be confused about how they should interpret this information or how they should understand this issue,” Kanter said. “Even among researchers, there is debate about what it really means in terms of physician behavior.”

PharmedOut’s Fugh-Berman believes that patients with doctors who accept industry payments should change physicians.

“Any doctor who’s seeing drug reps or being paid by any companies is going to have less accurate information about drugs in general than physicians who don’t,” she said. “Drug reps are trained to deliver messages in a way that advantages their products.”

Others, however, suggest a less black-and-white approach.

If patients are concerned by what they find on the database, they can ask their doctor about it, said Dr. Aaron Mitchell, an oncology fellow at the University of North Carolina who has studied how payments influence prescribing behavior.

“It’s definitely worthy of a conversation if a patient is concerned,” Mitchell said. “Within a lot of these subspecialty fields it can be difficult to find a doctor that doesn’t have some level of relationship (with industry). It’s pretty prevalent.”

Many patients, however, aren’t terribly concerned.

Shortly after visiting a specialist at Northwestern on a recent day, Miroslava Arias said she’s heard of the issue and should look up her doctors online to see if they’ve received payments.

But when the 50-year-old Joliet woman visits her physicians, she said her main thought is, “Just try to fix me.”

Twitter @lschencker

Twitter @jsmithrichards

Go to Source