Doctors and Industry: When Sharing Sunshine Data, Context Matters

July 29, 2014 – Industry groups and physician organizations have banded together to petition the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to address “certain pressing issues” related to implementation of the Sunshine Act.

The first request in the July 28 letter, signed by 26 groups, is that CMS provide physicians and industry stakeholders with information “describing how context will be provided to the general public when Sunshine Act data is made available in September.” In addition, the letter asks for increased outreach to educate doctors on the Sunshine Act and a simpler process for doctors to interact with the Open Payments database.

The letter – signed by industry groups Biotechnology Industry Organization and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – states that the only information in Medicare Part B data released to the public earlier this year included data related to names and numbers, “with no context explaining the data,” which can “lead to confusion and misinterpretation.”

“The letter demonstrates the long-standing concern by doctors and industry that the Sunshine Act database may be used by the press and others to vilify perfectly reasonable and appropriate relationships between doctors and industry,” said John Kamp, Executive Director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “Let’s hope HHS listens and responds quickly and appropriately.”

The letter signatories point out that although Congress mandated that CMS provide context along with Sunshine Act data – and that multiple stakeholders have offered blueprints about how this context could be provided –  “we have heard nothing from CMS regarding how the data will be explained.”

The Wall Street Journal included a comment from CMS that it received late yesterday noting that the “agency does plan to make available the nature of payment for each payment or transfer of value made to a physician or teaching hospital and will also include the context on the website.”

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