Research, royalties, and recreation: What pharma paid docs in 2013
- The Open Payments website, launched on October 1, contains data on money paid to physicians and teaching hospitals between August and December 2013 for speaking, consulting, research, and other purposes.
- The Wall Street Journal has provided an interactive graphic providing a glimpse into line-item data and offering some corrected information that has become available since the site launched earlier this month.
- Some of the corrections are substantial, including WSJ's detailed accounting showing that payments only total $2.5 billion, instead of the $3.5 billion originally reported by CMS. The other billion dollars actually consists of financial ownership and stock options.
The fact that the CMS has been able to collect and compile data from 1,035 pharmaceutical and device manufacturers is something to be celebrated. Compilation of this data means that companies are being compliant with the Sunshine Act; at the same time, physicians are finally geting to see the entire system being unveiled and scrutinized. These two factors bode well for appropriate conduct around the process of allocating money to physicians and teaching hospitals for speaking, consulting, research, and other purposes.
Though the overall outcome has been positive, the main drawback is that understanding the data means wading through a lot of information and trying to make sense of the convoluted data. Fortunately, the WSJ and other analytic sources have started to do that. However, one major problem remains: the available data is still contentious, with some physicians contesting a total of $1.1 billion in payments. Because of that dispute, there is still no search-by-doctor feature.
Based on the WSJ interactive analysis, research is the largest line-item expenditure, with pharma companies paying physicians a total of $1.486 billion between May and December 2013. Physicians also received $228 million for speaking engagements, $158 million for consulting, $96 million for entertainment (not including another $93 million for food and drinks), and money for various other purposes. Due to the sheer volume of the information, it will take time to fully uncover all of the data—and understand what it means—but the existence of the Open Payments system is bound to have a positive impact on behavior all around.