A recent investigation by ProPublica found 170,000 physicians are receiving cash and perks from pharmaceutical companies for promoting drugs. 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. Another recent study done by the team at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital did a survey of 1,900 primary care doctors about their contacts with drug companies and found 84% reported some type of relationship with drug companies; this is still a high number compared to the same report done by Harvard in 2004 that found 94% reporting some connection.
Reuters reports what Eric Campbell who lead the Harvard study and who teaches at the Harvard Medical School said doctors continue to think they cannot be influenced by free drug samples or a fancy lunch — a notion he said defies basic social science.
Putting doctors in a position to be salespeople is a conflict of interests as motivations to prescribe people medications in order to receive perks or cash puts patients health on the line. Since the 2004 Harvard report academic and government agencies have been pressuring doctors to sever their ties with drug companies. The ProPublica reports are a great step in the direction of informing consumers; it is based on reports from seven companies; AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co., Pfizer, Cephalon and Johnson & Johnson who were required to disclose doctor payments as part of settlement agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice and Merck&Co. and GlaxoSmithKline who provided the information voluntarily. But these are only seven out of the 70 pharmaceutical companies operating in the United States and although they account for 36% of U.S. prescription drug sales, ProPublica states that “While that’s a sizeable share of the market, it suggests that there are many more payments from other drug companies that consumers don’t yet know their doctors are receiving.”
Thankfully the giant Novartis, will have to begin disclosing physician payments by March 2011 due to a settlement reached this fall with the Justice Department. The rest of the companies will be recquired to publicizing their reports due to legislation in this years health care reform known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act which would take effect in 2013.