#Ad: Doctor or Influencer? They’re probably both!

With all the news circulating about the high cost of drugs and the opioid epidemic, you may have heard about the money pharmaceutical manufacturers give to doctors to promote specific drugs.  Maybe you’ve even gone to the doctor and walked out with a free drug sample. (If not, it’s true, it happens, and those samples come from manufacturers) While drug makers can’t keep doctors directly on their payroll, doctors can be persuaded with payments through food, gifts, and travel to conferences.

Think of your doctor like an Instagram influencer that’s getting paid to promote one medication over another — but instead of having #Ad on their insta story, they’re using their medical knowledge and your trust to potentially sell a product. Lucky for you, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) established a database through the ACA (thanks Obama!) that tracks payments made to doctors.  You can look up a doctor and understand if they may be more likely to give you genuine medical advice or just #Ads.

You can look up your doctors using the CMS “Open Payments” database. On the home screen, select the search tool.

 

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Through this tool you can search the most recent payment data from 2017 or across all years. Many of the doctors you will come across have minimal to no payment data which is a good thing! This means they haven’t received payments from drug makers. However, if we look at some doctors may have a payment history, like this internal medicine physician in Nebraska. If you select “general payments,” you can see significant payments from the drug manufacturer Amgen.

 

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Through the “general payments tab” below, we can see that this doctor received payments well above the doctor average at $116,159.80. The Journal of the American Medical Association found in 2015 that 48% of physicians in the U.S. accepted some kind of payment from a pharmaceutical company. However, the average per-physician value of payments in a year was just $201. This doctor has had well over 100 transactions with manufacturers while the national average is just 17 for general doctors and 66 for his specialty.
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You can also see a breakdown of what kind of payments the doctor received. In this case, 74% went to compensation for services such as consulting, speaking, or engaging at events other than continuing education. This could be a conference that Amgen sponsored where the doctor was paid to present or some other kind of activity. We can see again that this doctor varies strongly from the average. The American Medical Association’s 2015 study found that on average 88.7% of payments to doctors were for food or meals.
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The moral of the story is that doctors interacting with drug manufacturers is not necessarily a bad thing. Ideally, doctors will talk with drug makers and learn about new and cutting edge medications but not let it sway the advice they give patients. But, studies do show that doctors can be unduly influenced to prescribe brand name drugs over generics (which means $$$$ for you). So add this website to your review toolbox and understand if your doctor may be paid to influence you!

 

Want more Information: HIP firmly believes that every patient should demand the best care from the best medical providers. To make that happen, you often have to put in time and effort. You can read more about finding a primary care doctor in HIP’s post, “Swipe Right for Your Next PCP(Primary Care Physician).” We recommend that you use a variety of online tools to check out a prospective doctor.  While reviews from other patients and checking to see if a doctor is in your network are critical first steps the CMS “Open Payments” database is another tool you can use to find out exactly how much your doctor is cashing in.

 

TLDR:

  • Doctors may be influenced to prescribe certain medications based on gifts or payment from drug makers
  • You can look up your doctors using the CMS “Open Payments” database. On the home screen, select the search tool.
    • On average, doctors receive around $200 of payments from drug makers, with the majority going towards food or meals.
  • Doctors interacting with drug makers is not a bad thing — but it can mean increased costs to you if the interaction unduly influences your doctor

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