Pharmaceutical and medical device companies paid over 600,000 doctors at least once from August 2013 to December 2014, according to a new report based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
NPR and ProPublica co-report that "thousands of dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors" also received "at least one industry payment" in the same time period.
Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told NPR and ProPublica:
There are physician practices which have very deep relationships with pharmaceutical representatives, where they are a very integral part of the practice. Every day it's another drug company coming in for a lunch. Sometimes it may be some drug companies are bringing breakfast and some are bringing lunch and it's just part of the culture of the practice.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America defended this drug company-doctor financial relationship in a statement:
Collaboration between physicians and biopharmaceutical professionals is critical to improving the health and quality of life of patients.
Clinical trials sponsored by biopharmaceutical companies have led to life-saving breakthroughs for people suffering from cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Physicians also provide real-world insights and valuable feedback to companies about their medicines to improve patient care.
Educating the public about the nature of these collaborations helps patients understand in which ways these interactions can improve both their health and medical innovation.
Where exactly does all this money go?
NPR and ProPublica report, "All told, 1,617 companies reported 15.7 million payments valued at $9.9 billion. Nearly all of those payments — 14.9 million — were classified as 'general payments,' covering promotional speaking, consulting, meals, travel and royalties. They totaled $3.5 billion over the 17-month period."
"There were far fewer research payments, 826,000, but they were valued at $4.8 billion. The remaining payments related to ownership or investment interests that doctors had in companies."
ProPublica has created the Our Dollars for Docs database so that people can look up their doctor, dentist or other medical professional and see if he or she is taking money from drug and medical device companies.
This information is being made public, thanks to the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (part of Obamacare), which requires that drug and medical device companies report their payments to doctors. More information can be found at the government's Open Payments website.
However, those reports do not include all the cash for drug samples or educational classes.