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Friday, December 20, 2013

Doctors and Drug Company Dollars: How Recent Strides toward Transparency in Financial Relationships Will Benefit Consumers

Kim Bailey

Health System Improvement Program Director

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical manufacturers, made a bold announcement this week: It's going to stop paying doctors to promote its drugs. In an industry that has long relied on physicians to spread the word to their colleagues about new medicines (and has compensated them handsomely for doing so), this marks what many hope is the beginning of a major change in the culture of medicine and the marketing of drugs.

More financial transparency is underway for doctors and the pharmaceutical industry

Glaxo's announcement comes at a time when major developments in the transparency of financial relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and health care providers are afoot. In August, the Open Payments program required drug companies to begin reporting payments and gifts that they provide to doctors and teaching hospitals. Next fall, consumers will be able to access this information through a public website operated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Research shows extent and effect of financial relationships between doctors and drug companies

Research shows that the vast majority of doctors have some financial relationship with the drug industry, and these relationships may influence how doctors practice medicine – not always to the consumer's benefit. The Open Payments program and Glaxo's decision to stop providing direct payments to doctors are big steps forward in the reform of the health care system.

Whether or not other drug companies follow Glaxo's lead remains to be seen. But we do know that programs that require doctors and hospitals to publicly disclose relationships with the industry (like Open Payments) give consumers an important opportunity to learn about these relationships and to ask how or if they influence a doctor's recommended course of care.

If you didn't catch last weekend's New York Times article on the marketing of ADHD drugs, it's worth reading, as it provides a tangible example of how payments from drug companies to doctors that promote their drugs, coupled with advertisements targeted to consumers, can influence how doctors prescribe drugs to their patients.