Docs brace for sunshine as industry gifts go public

Starting this month, medical device and drug companies are disclosing every dollar they pay doctors, whether to recoup a meal or bankroll a clinical trial, and rising scrutiny has some physicians rethinking their relationships with the industry.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, thanks to the Affordable Care Act's sunshine provision, companies are reporting their transactions with physicians to the feds, and, come September 2014, those names and figures will end up on a searchable public website maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Drug and device companies dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors each year, often for consultations and clinical expertise, but sometimes for promotional activities that alarm watchdog groups and occasionally run afoul of the law. Now, with more scrutiny on the horizon, some doctors are worried patients won't be able to discern between the two, casting doubts on professional reputations.

John Mandrola, a Kentucky cardiologist, told the WSJ he's been paid around $1,500 in speaking fees by medical device companies this year, but he'll be more cautious once each transaction is spelled out online.

"I'll continue to weigh the benefits and the negatives, and I think the Sunshine Act and the public reporting of all this stuff makes us think about that," Mandrola told the newspaper. "And I think that's a good thing."

The aim of the provision is to squelch drug and device companies from lining physicians' pockets to increase the number of recommended procedures or prescriptions, a practice that has resulted in law-breaking payoffs and eventual high-dollar legal settlements from the likes of Medtronic ($MDT) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), to name just two.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a demonstrated positive correlation between industry's wallets and doctors' prescription pads, recently affirmed in a study from the Social Science Research Network.

But while getting industry-to-physician payments out in the open will make it much easier to track potential malfeasance, some doctors worry that the fear of misaccusations could keep experts from accepting consulting fees to study new treatments and provide valuable input. Many physicians accept checks from drug and device outfits to educate other doctors on new treatments, a process they say is both ethically above-board and accretive to the world of medicine.

- read the WSJ story (sub. req.)

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