New data revealing the payments doctors and teaching hospitals received from drug companies and device manufacturers was made available online on Tuesday, the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced.
The data include 4.4 million payments made to 546,000 physicians and 1,360 teaching hospitals between August and December of 2013. The payments — which include speaking fees, consulting fees, ownership stakes, and more — total $US3.5 billion.
The data release is part of a the Open Payments program, created by a section of the Affordable Care Act called the Sunshine Act that was designed to shed some light on the huge amounts of money exchanged between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers — money that may affect doctors’ decisions about their patients.
“Research has shown that physician — industry relationships do influence prescribing behaviour,” Eric G. Campbell wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine soon after the law was proposed. The idea behind the Sunshine Act is that making such relationships public may eventually make them less ubiquitous and in turn save the healthcare system money.
Still, financial relationships between physicians and drug and device companies “do not necessarily signal wrongdoing,” Shantanu Agrawal, a deputy administrator at the Centres for Medicare & Medicaid Services, emphasised on a call with reporters. “The data does not identify which financial relationships are beneficial, and which might represent conflicts of interest.”
The current data release, the first in a series, is also incomplete. It only includes data for the last five months of 2013, so if your doctor received a payment earlier in the year, that would not show up. In addition, records were anonymized if there was any confusion about the identity of the doctor in question, e.g. if two doctors had the same name and it couldn’t be resolved which one received the payment in question. That means 40% of records don’t yet reveal who was actually paid.
Finally, payments that involved products not yet approved by the FDA were excluded at the companies’ request, to protect trade secrets or active research. (That data — 199,000 payments in all — will eventually be included, either in four years or after FDA approval.) Another 9,000 records have been withheld because the information in them was disputed by physicians or hospitals.
Soon, the site will include more user-friendly search and analysis tools to help patients explore the data. Officials at the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Systems have promised that a full twelve months of data, including all physicians’ names, will be released in 2015.
How To Look Up Your Doctor
With all those caveats in mind, you can go ahead and look up your doctor on the new Open Payments site to see what you can learn. We’d recommend cross-referencing that information with a query on the Dollars for Docs site, a ProPublica project that includes payments from some of the largest drug companies from 2009-2013.
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