A new law wrapped into the Affordable Care Act was the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. The idea behind this law is to shine a light on any financial relationships between pharmaceutical industries or applicable manufacturers, and the doctors and hospitals with whom they work. With increased transparency, and by publishing these relationships online here, the government hopes to increase patient safety.
While transparency is a noble cause, I’m not sure that providing financial data between pharmaceutical companies and doctors/hospitals results in patient safety as much as it results in physician embarrassment. Maybe that’s the real goal, but saying it that way wasn’t as politically correct as saying it’s being done in the name of patient safety, when the law was written.
Just a little background. Remember when doctors always had pens with a drug’s name on it? The physician payment sunshine act is a way to bring those types of relationships out into the open. Doctors and hospitals are constantly bombarded by various pharmaceutical and other companies to try their drug or product. To stand out from the crowd when wooing a doctor, these companies may take the doctor out to dinner to discuss the product. If the doctor is especially supportive of a drug, the drug maker will pay that doctor to speak on their behalf. It’s very possible the doctor truly believes in the product and if they’re treating many of their patients with the drug, the doctor can speak on their experience. However, as is human nature, it’s possible that financial remuneration by the drug manufacturer may lead the doctor/hospital to prescribe or over prescribe a drug.
Providing benefits to doctors has evolved into rewards more sophisticated that giving out pens. And while I do understand the concern about financial relationships effecting how a doctor prescribes a drug, I don’t think this is the norm for how doctors behave. But you wouldn’t know it by reading a recent NY Times article. They’re happy to point out that one drug company paid doctors for their use and support of a strong painkiller and ultimately found that five of their top 20 paid doctors faced legal and/or disciplinary actions for issues related and unrelated to their prescribing of the drug. This is great fodder for the newest national pastime of blaming doctors for everything but if you continue to blame doctors when you don’t need them, they may not be around when you do need them.