Is Your Doctor on Big Pharma’s Payroll?

From Daily Finance:

By Loren Berlin

Medical device and pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for a big change in the way they deal with their most important middlemen: doctors. Beginning in 2013, they’ll be required to report every dime they pay out to physicians in speaking fees, consulting, research, meals and business travel to the federal government. You say you didn’t know your doctor was on a pharmaceutical company’s payroll? Neither did I — until this morning, when I searched a new database created by ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, and discovered that one of mine has received money from two drug companies.

Doctors benefiting from relationships with drug or medical device companies is nothing new. Remember all the pens and stuffed animals and other branded tchotchkes that used to be scattered about doctors’ offices? All those trinkets began disappearing a few years ago, after the pharmaceutical industry in 2009 voluntarily agreed to stop producing them, an effort to “try to counter the impression that gifts to doctors are intended to unduly influence medicine,” reports The New York Times.

“But some critics said the code did not go far enough to address the influence of drug marketing on the practice of medicine,”
the newspaper goes on to say. “The guidelines, for example, still permit drug makers to underwrite free lunches for doctors and their staffs or to sponsor dinners for doctors at restaurants, as long as the meals are accompanied by educational presentations.”

It’s these “educational presentations” that are now gaining attention. According to ProPublica, “Eight pharmaceutical companies, including the nation’s three largest, doled out more than $220 million last year to promotional speakers for their products.” The slides used in the presentations are created by the drug and medical device companies, and these speakers are doctors that the companies pay to make presentations to other doctors about the benefits of various products.

And they can make serious money doing it. Nam Dang, a cancer specialist and speaker for drug manufacturer Cephalon (CEPH), raked in $131,250 in 2009 alone. Zale Bernstein, a Buffalo hematologist, banked $177,800 on the Cephalon circuit in 2010, and that’s excluding the additional $35,000 for travel. Gerald M. Sacks, a Santa Monica, Calif., pain specialist, earned just shy of $500,000 in the last two years for his speaking and consulting gigs with four companies. And again, that excludes whatever he received in reimbursement for travel costs and meals.

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