drug companies required to report payments to doctors for research

Earlier this month, we wrote a post about the research surrounding bone morphogenetic protein-2. The back surgery product was touted as revolutionary with an expected 100 percent success rate and minimal complications. Instead, BMP-2 became infamous for its corporate-funded research and financially conflicted doctors. Because of the incomplete research, some surgeons recommended unnecessarily dangerous surgeries.

There were two main issues at the heart of the controversy. First, many people did not know that the doctors who were researching and publishing information about BMP-2 were receiving money from Medtronic, the company marketing BMP-2. In addition, the doctors’ research did not coherently explain the financial incentives they were receiving, so people using the research had no way of knowing the doctors had a financial conflict of interest.

In an effort to combat this type of potentially very risky dynamic between researchers and drug and medical device manufacturers, the Obama administration is ready to “require drug companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors for research, consulting, speaking, travel and entertainment.”

The proposed requirement comes hot on the heels of research that suggests doctors are influenced by the financial support they receive from drug makers and manufacturers. Support from the drug companies often leads to higher costs because of doctors who encourage the use of more expensive drugs and medical devices.

The research found that doctors who receive payments to do research or give lectures behave differently than those who do not. Doctors who accept financial payments from drug makers are often “more willing to prescribe drugs in risky and unapproved ways, such as prescribing antipsychotic medicines for children.”

Under the new standards, if a company has one product covered by Medicare or Medicaid, the company will be required to disclose its payments to doctors. The federal government will then post the payment information online, and it will be available to everyone. In addition, manufacturers of prescription drugs and medical devices will be required to report if they pay doctors to help develop, assess or promote a new product.

Reporting the payments does not negate the financial conflict of interest. However, making others aware of the payments enables healthcare professionals and patients to question research that seems biased or simply too good to be true.

Source: The New York Times, “U.S. to Force Drug Firms to Report Money Paid to Doctors,” Robert Pear, Jan. 16, 2012

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