by: Jeff S. Gibson, Attorney
Pharmaceutical and medical device makers invest millions of dollars in the research and development of innovative treatments and cures to help improve the quality of life for people all over the world. Such large investments can create a lot of pressure for these products to succeed in the marketplace. To drive sales, drug and device makers send representatives to hospitals and local doctors' offices to educate healthcare professionals on the benefits that their products can offer patients. Part of this sales process may sometimes involve financial support of the doctor's practice via payment for conference attendance, consulting fees, or charitable contributions.
Consumers have a right to be concerned about the financial support provided by these drug and device manufacturers. This support may have a 'reciprocity effect' on the doctors who receive it. Psychologists have studied the effect of favors and gifts on subjects and noted that when gifts or favors were given, the subject often felt a social obligation to return the favor. The return favor in this instance would be writing prescriptions for the manufacturer's drugs and medical devices. As you can imagine, the greater the investment the drug manufacturer makes with the doctor, the more likely the doctor will feel a greater social obligation towards the manufacturer in the form of writing more prescriptions.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare and Medicaid policies and oversees other regulations such as the Affordable Healthcare Act, released information regarding transparency in health care. On August 1, 2013, CMS will begin collecting data from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers, group purchasing organizations, physicians, and teaching hospitals. This data will include information regarding payments and gifts that are exchanged between parties and will be made public through an online database beginning September 30, 2014. The idea behind this change is to provide patients information regarding financial relationships that exist between the companies that supply and manufacture the drugs and medical devices that the doctor who is treating them.
Transparency provides both physicians and manufacturers accountability for their actions. I wrote an article about bias in pharmaceutical industry sponsored drug trials and feel that this type of reporting system can help patients understand the dynamics of these relationships and make informed decisions regarding their health care. The monetary support that the pharmaceutical industry provides to healthcare personnel can be good if it helps to improve knowledge and best practices. However, if taken too far, greed can put patients at risk. Doctors should prescribe medications and medical devices to patients based on improving the quality of care for the patient, not improving their bottom line. This new reporting requirement will offer greater clarity for the public about the relationship between the physician and the pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer.
photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc