March 10, 2014 – The need for industry to educate the public on why company interaction with physicians is both important and crucial to the public health is becoming more clear as a March 3 report posted last week on the ProPublica “Dollars for Doctors” site states that “some of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies have slashed payments to health professionals for promotional speeches amid heightened scrutiny of such spending.”
Although the report does quote individuals from companies and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) as saying that lower spending on speaker payments is due to a variety of factors, including loss of patent protection, product shifts and changing business models, it suggests that significant drops in payments to speakers – down 55 percent at Eli Lilly and Co., 62 percent at Pfizer and 40 percent at Novartis – are due to increased regulation of marketing practices and the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, and that they are a welcome result.
“While ‘transparency’ is a reasonable goal, media and public policy makers must put these reports in the proper context,” said Coalition for Healthcare Communication Executive Director John Kamp. “Those reading the ProPublica material are led to believe that fewer collaborations are better, and that transparency efforts ‘succeed’ when collaborations are reduced. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Kamp added.
The ProPublica report does say that PhRMA officials “dispute this characterization” that paying physicians to speak on a company’s behalf undermines a doctor’s credibility and that the group “is working with their member companies to prepare for the Sunshine Act and [has] created a campaign to promote the value of drug company-doctor collaborations.”
Kamp believes that collaborations between academic, clinical and industry experts lead to better informed doctors and better patient care. “ProPublica and other media need to do a better job putting collaborations in appropriate context, so that policy makers and the public can better understand their contribution to effective, efficient patient care,” he said.
An article on the report posted March 7 on Policy and Medicine states the case well: “ProPublica’s article suggests that the release of more and more payment information will discourage doctors from collaborating with industry. Is that a good thing? Once the Sunshine Act website is public, will research relationships dry up as well?”
Echoing Kamp’s remarks, Policy and Medicine also states that the Dollars for Docs site “could harm fruitful and important collaborations under the false pretense that ‘transparency’ is more important than medical advancements for patient health.” (Read the full Policy and Medicine article at http://www.policymed.com/2014/03/pharmaceutical-companies-drastically-cut-speaker-payments-for-doctors.html)